Government set to ban Huawei from 5G network in U-turn amid Tory rebellion

Boris Johnson to make final decision at meeting of National Security Council

Peter Stubley
Tuesday 14 July 2020 01:20 BST
Boris Johnson defends Huawei decision

The UK government is set to ban Huawei from the 5G network following a rebellion by dozens of Tory MPs and intense pressure from the United States.

Media secretary Oliver Dowden is expected to announce the U-turn in the House of Commons following a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Boris Johnson on Tuesday morning.

It is thought the government will announce no new Huawei equipment can be installed in the network from as early as next year. There will also be a so-called “rip out” date by which all the existing Huawei technology must be removed.

However, it remains unclear how quickly ministers will attempt to phase out the Chinese telecoms firm, whose involvement in 5G is already capped at 35 per cent.

A group of up to 60 Conservative MPs had urged the prime minister to remove all Huawei equipment from Britain’s phone networks by 2024 on top of a ban on the purchase of new kit.

But BT boss Philip Jansen warned the UK could see internet “outages” if it moved too quickly and suggested that five years would be needed for 5G and up to ten years for other networks.

The government are expected to highlight the impact of new US sanctions on chip technology as well as existing concerns that Huawei was an “agent” of the Chinese government.

Asked about Huawei last month, Mr Johnson said he would protect critical infrastructure from “hostile state vendors”, while on Monday justice secretary Robert Buckland said the “priority” would be national security.

China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and the perception that it failed to share information about the coronavirus outbreak have also weighed against Huawei’s involvement in UK infrastructure.

The decision comes six months after the prime minister defied Donald Trump by approving Huawei’s involvement in 5G.

It would mark the end of what former prime minister David Cameron described as a “golden era” in ties with China.

Last week China’s ambassador to London warned a ban would send a “very bad message” to Chinese companies.

“The China business community are all watching how you handle Huawei. If you get rid of Huawei it sends out a very bad message to other Chinese businesses,” said Liu Xiaoming.

Relations between the UK and China were already under intense strain after Britain offered 3 million Hongkongers a path to settle in the UK following the imposition by Beijing of a new national security law on the former British colony.

While many MPs have urged the Government to take a tough line with China, others fear the consequences of a prolonged stand-off at a time when the world economy is struggling to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Ministers have indicated that they were forced to act over Huawei after the US imposed tough new sanctions banning the firm from using any American components in its products.

The National Cyber Security Centre – which previously supported the decision to allow it a limited role in the 5G network – is said to have advised that the move means its equipment could no longer be considered secure.

Ahead of the announcement Tory backbencher Bob Seely, who has acted as the co-odinator of the 60-strong Huawei Interest Group of MPs – said members would be looking closely at both the proposed “new kit” and “rip out” deadlines.

He warned the government could face a backbench rebellion when the Telecoms Security Bill comes to the Commons later this year if they tried to push the “rip out” date to the end of the decade.

“If there isn’t a date after which telecoms companies cannot install Huawei kit, parliamentarians will be concerned that Huawei and China could continue to insert kit whilst lobbying hard to reverse Government decisions,” he said.

“On the other hand, an announcement of no new Huawei kit allowed within 12 months would reassure colleagues.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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