Huawei: Boris Johnson faces major Tory backlash amid row over critical 5G decision

PM to chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday

Huawei involved in UK's 5G network compared to 'allowing fox in a hen house'

Boris Johnson has sparked a major Tory backlash ahead of a critical decision on whether to allow the Chinese firm Huawei to build the UK’s 5G network.

Amid escalating tensions with Washington, senior Conservatives broke ranks to warn the prime minister against “allowing the fox in the hen house” by letting the tech giant into the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday, with a decision expected on whether Huawei equipment can be used in the 5G network.

Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up pressure on Downing Street to ditch the Chinese company, which the US has banned from its 5G networks on national security grounds.

The row is shaping up to be one of the first big tests of Mr Johnson’s premiership, as angry backbenchers lined up to condemn the prospect of allowing Huawei into any part of the UK’s infrastructure.

Tom Tugendhat, Tory former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Tomorrow a decision will be made that we will not have any further say on because of course any decision that is made will nest a dragon into our critical national infrastructure or not.

“That decision will not be one that is reversible by a future government with any ease at all. This will be a decision that we will live with for the next 10, 15, or 20 years.”

The Tory MP asked whether the risk was worth it, adding: “Perhaps we should be aware of strangers and the gifts they bear.”

He said: “The idea that we should be nesting that dragon, the idea that we should be allowing the fox into the hen house, when really we should be guarding the wire, is one of those moments where I hope the minister will see his responsibility very clearly.”

Tory grandee Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the prospect of letting Huawei into the network was “utterly bizarre” and claimed he had been promised that the government would reject the move.

Damian Collins, former chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said a Cabinet Office report last year cited “serious and systemic failings in cybersecurity in the current Huawei network” and questioned why the government is prepared to give the company more work when there are “still serious concerns about the work it has already done”.

Ex-cabinet minister Jeremy Wright also urged ministers to reassure MPs that the decision was based on advice from the intelligence agencies.

Earlier, David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, also said Mr Trump’s administration “have a point” about the Chinese telecommunications giant and claimed potential vulnerabilities could be exploited by Beijing later down the line.

“The problem with this is that it is irreversible. Once you have done it, the technology is not designed to be ‘plug and play’ – where you can pull out a Huawei unit and put in a Samsung one – it’s effectively proprietary, a bit like having an Apple plug.

“So it’s quite close to an irreversible mistake, and it’s also close to a mistake you wouldn’t know if you’d made it.”

But former Tory minister Crispin Blunt, ex-chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the government to ignore pressure from the US unless there was a credible security risk.

He told MPs: “Unless the Americans can make a legitimate security case, we should quietly ignore their current public position that thinly disguises a protectionist trade position built on supposition, and we should proceed on the evidence, as well as gently telling our American friends that we are not leaving one dependent economic relationship on Friday, to immediately enter another.”

Mr Johnson told reporters he would not “jeopardise” the UK’s security relationships​.

But he added: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the UK, allow consumers, businesses in the UK to have access to fantastic technology, fantastic communications, but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world.”

The US has long insisted that allowing Huawei into telecoms infrastructure presents a risk of espionage and it has warned its allies against allowing the tech giant access to their networks.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said British sovereignty could be in jeopardy if it gave the green light to Huawei.

The company itself has always denied claims that its equipment could be used to spy on people and that it is too close to the Chinese government.

But not using Huawei could have economic implications, slowing down the rollout of super-fast internet, which was one of Mr Johnson’s key pledges during the election.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said he did not believe the US would cut off intelligence-sharing if Huawei was given a role in the UK’s 5G network.

“When the dust settles, I find it very hard to believe that the US would want to cut off its access to UK-generated intelligence as a response to a decision of this nature. I don’t take that threat very seriously,” he said.

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