PM to scale back Huawei 5G role in wake of virus crisis
BORIS JOHNSON plans to reduce Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
The Prime Minister has instructed officials to draw up plans that would scale down China’s involvement in the UK’S infrastructure to zero by 2023.
Mr Johnson is poised to visit the US for the G7 summit next month. Having called for the UK to become more selfsufficient and less reliant on China for goods, he is expected to ramp up trade talks with Donald Trump as Brexit negotiations with the EU have become increasingly fractious.
The rethinking of the Huawei deal follows a backlash among Tory MPS following the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan in the province of Hubei. Beijing has been accused of covering up the initial scale of the infection, while Chinese hackers are suspected of breaking into US Covid-19 research.
There is mounting suspicion in the West over Beijing’s repeated attempts to gain an economic advantage from
‘I hope it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China’
the pandemic. Tory MPS argued that the “rushed” 5G deal had angered allies and left Britain “utterly friendless” after members of the Five Eyes security alliance raised fears over espionage.
Insiders have told The Telegraph that Mr Johnson always had “serious concerns” about the Huawei agreement, which was brokered by Theresa May’s administration but signed off by her successor in January.
A source said: “He still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back. Officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s
involvement as quickly as possible. He has taken a great many soundings from his own MPS on this issue and shares their concerns … coronavirus has changed everything.”
No 10 said ministers were in close contact with Washington over the US president’s proposals to hold a number of G7 sessions at the White House and Camp David from June 10-13.
Mr Trump has been highly critical of the UK’S decision to allow Huawei to build 35 per cent of its network, despite Britain branding the telecoms giant a “high-risk vendor”.
He threatened to restrict Britain’s access to Five Eyes intelligence – shared by the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – following what was described as an “apoplectic” phone call with the Prime Minister in February.
In China’s latest power grab, it yesterday set in motion a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing local politicians, in a move seen as an attempt to stifle the city’s special freedoms.
The UK, Australia and Canada released a joint statement condemning the move, saying it undermined the “one country, two systems” principle under which Hong Kong was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy.
It came amid escalating fears that Beijing was seeking to assert its influence by buying firms at risk of going bankrupt due to the crisis.
Mr Johnson flagged up new measures to protect British technology during Prime Minister’s Questions. Asked by the Tory MP Richard Drax if the UK should copy France’s review of defence supply chains, he replied: “We are certainly bringing forward measures to ensure that we protect our technological base.” Reports later emerged that Mr Johnson wanted the UK to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on China for supplies and goods. His spokesman said yesterday that the aim was to shore up the resilience of the country’s international supply chains.
“We’re looking at making sure that we have resilient supply chains around the world,” the spokesman said. The first bit of the work is going on separately, so we are significantly increasing the domestic production of PPE.”
The plans are being led by the permanent secretary of the Department for International Trade, reporting to the Foreign Secretary. In March, MPS mounted a significant rebellion in the Commons, with 36 Tories crossing the floor on a Huawei amendment tabled by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, attached to an unrelated Bill. It called for the elimination of all Huawei technology from mobile networks by the end of 2022.
The support of just 13 more MPS would be needed to change the Telecommunications Security Bill when it is put to the Commons.
Last night, Sir Iain said he hoped Mr Johnson’s decision would be the start of a “thorough review” of “our dangerous dependency on China”.
Downing Street last night declined to comment.