PM to scale back Huawei 5G role in wake of virus cri­sis

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Camilla Tominey as­so­ciate ed­i­tor

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.

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