Boris Johnson now has “solid technical reasons” to reverse his decision to allow the Chinese company Huawei to play a role in building the UK’s 5G infrastructure, said a former MI6 chief on Sunday.
Sir John Sawers said that the new U.S. sanctions imposed on the company meant that allowing Huawei to expand its hold on the UK telecommunications market posed security risks that did not apply when the government announced a settlement. compromised in January, allocating it up to 35% of the market.
Sawers said following reports – not denied by the government – that the National Cyber Security Center also concluded that the balance of risks has changed and that Huawei must be excluded from 5G.
The decision, which is expected to be confirmed by the national security council within the next two weeks and announced in a statement to parliament before the summer break, will be warmly welcomed by many conservative MPs, 38 of whom rebelled against a vote on this issue in March.
In an article for FT, Sawers said that the initial decision to allow Huawei a partial role in the construction of 5G was a “reasonable balance”, but it was no longer so because of the sanctions, which would have prevented the company from using the technology based on the American intellectual property.
As a result “reliable non-Chinese suppliers … can no longer work with the company” and “UK intelligence services can therefore no longer provide the necessary assurances that Chinese-made equipment is still safe to use in the UK telecommunications, “said Sawers.
He continued: “There are now compelling technical reasons why the UK changes its January decision … The security assessment is now different because the facts have changed.”
Tobias Ellwood, the conservative chairman of the defense committee of the municipalities, told Sky News that it was “very wise” for the government to rethink this problem. He said that in addition to technical reasons for objecting that Huawei has a stake in 5G, China’s management of the coronavirus epidemic and its crackdown in Hong Kong showed that there were also political reasons for treating China with greater caution.
The original decision to allow Huawei to play a role in building the British 5G network was made because western companies could not compete on price or experience.
But the firm has never been able to successfully refute the suggestions that it is ultimately under the control of the Chinese state, which means that hostile power could have leverage on critical UK infrastructure. The January announcement tried to address this problem by saying that Huawei would be excluded from the “security critical” parts of 5G, but now it is expected to be phased out.
In a statement on Sunday, Huawei said U.S. sanctions “were not about security but about market position” and that it wanted to find a way to manage them “so that the UK can maintain its current 5G advantage.”
The statement continued: “All of our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the UK government has close supervision.”
Last week, the government was also invited to exclude Huawei from Lisa Nandy, the new foreign shadow secretary. In a significant reinforcement of Labor’s position on the matter, he said that the UK needed “greater strategic independence from China, which means that we must have internal production alternatives for our 5G network and our nuclear energy.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, was asked on Sunday about news that Huawei’s removal process from the 5G network could begin before the end of the year.
He replied: “When we published an interim report on this earlier in the year, there were some conditions that had to be met.
“So I’m sure the National Security Council will consider these conditions and make the right decision to make sure that we have both a very powerful telecommunications infrastructure, but also that it is secure.”