Huawei 5G Causes Political Row in UK

The row over proposals by the British government to allow Chinese company Huawei to supply 5G telecoms infrastructure intensified this week. The FT reported that the UK’s decision on whether to allow Huawei to help develop fifth-generation mobile phone networks in the country is facing fresh delay as British officials wrestle with the implications of a US move to blacklist the Chinese telecoms equipment maker.

Reuters reported that US President Donald Trump will urge the British government not to allow Huawei to contribute to the national telecoms infrastructure during his state visit to the UK. The Trump administration, which has sanctioned Huawei and tried to block it buying US goods, has told allies not to use its 5G technology and equipment because of fears it would allow China to spy on sensitive communications and data.

The row over the potential use of Huawei in UK telecommunications infrastructure has been causing major disagreements within the British Conservative party. Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May overruled objections to Huawei’s involvement at a National Security Council meeting in April. However, two contenders to replace her as Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister have now suggested they would reconsider Huawei’s involvement. The issue became particularly divisive after a leak of the plans led to the dismissal of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary, although he protested his innocence. Ministers have insisted that no final decision has been made.

The Independent reported how two key Conservative leadership contenders have suggested they would reconsider Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, as Donald Trump also waded into the debate ahead of his state visit. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, and Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, both expressed concerns about allowing the Chinese tech firm to join the project. This came after the US president urged Britain to be “very careful” because of national security issues and the potential implications for intelligence sharing between the allies.

Mr Javid told the BBC he would not want “any company, whichever country it’s from, that has a high degree of control by a foreign government, to have access to our very sensitive tech communications”.

The FT said the US stance could mean the final decision by Britain on Huawei’s involvement is taken by Theresa May’s successor as Prime Minister.

US officials said Mr Trump would threaten to limit intelligence sharing with the UK if it allowed Huawei to build part of the country’s 5G network, because of Washington’s concerns that the Chinese group’s equipment could be used by Beijing for spying. The US government last month placed Huawei on a so-called entity list, meaning that American companies will have to obtain a licence from the authorities to sell components to the Chinese group.

Last month the UK National Security Council, chaired by Mrs May, concluded that Huawei could build some parts of Britain’s 5G networks, but the move was subject to a final decision by the government. Huawei said Washington’s decision to put the group on its entity list would affect about 1,200 American suppliers, the newspaper said.

Playing on the theme of fake news, and seeking to reach the same kind of audience that follows President Trump on social media, Huawei has responded to the negative publicity with a new Twitter account called Huawei Facts. This account tweets about research purporting to show Huawei’s innocence and it retweets supportive comments from industry figures.

Marianne Curphey
Marianne Curphey
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and columnist. She is a former Editor of Guardian Money online, City News Editor of The Guardian, Insurance Correspondent of The Times and Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Times.