Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Huawei to be frozen out of Britain’s 5G network by Christmas

Intelligence agencies have now concluded that Huawei’s products are not secure
Intelligence agencies have now concluded that Huawei’s products are not secure
Ministers are to start the process of stripping Huawei from Britain’s 5G network by the end of this year after a report by spy chiefs into the Chinese telecoms firm uncovered “severe” security issues.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has concluded that Huawei’s products are not secure after the US banned the Chinese firm, which is close to the regime in Beijing, from using American components, a move that “fundamentally changes” the situation.
Ministers on the National Security Council (NSC) will be asked to approve a policy shift in the next two weeks to ban the purchase of any new Huawei equipment by the end of this year. That paves the way for Huawei technology to be removed from existing parts of the 5G network by 2026 or 2027, with its 4G and 3G products to follow.
The intelligence report is on the desk of Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, and will go to the prime minister at the end of this week.
A statement will be made to parliament announcing the change in policy by the end of the month.
A Whitehall security source said: “The US sanctions on Huawei are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The company is forbidden from using American intellectual property (IP) in its semi-conductors — they can’t even use tools to make new semi-conductors if those tools use American IP.
“Huawei is in a position without any easy fixes or loopholes. This fundamentally changes the calculation. The impacts are so severe that, given the need to give clarity to industry, there will be a decision taken and parliament will be notified this month. Everybody is planning on this basis,” the security source said.
Telecommunication firms such as BT and Vodafone have asked the government to give them until 2030 to extract Huawei from the existing 5G infrastructure, but a senior source said that was “wishful thinking” by supporters of Huawei.
The decision is a big win for leading Tory backbenchers in the China Research Group, who have made clear that they are not prepared to see Huawei remain a key part of the telecoms network for anything like 10 years.
Tom Tugendhat, who is chairman of both the China Research Group and the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “The NCSC’s re-evaluation of the risk Huawei poses as a supplier matches the strength of feeling in the parliamentary party and, from China Research Group polling, across the whole country. The government’s change of heart is very welcome.”
The intelligence agencies originally said they could mitigate the security risks presented by Huawei. That led to the Chinese firm being given the green light in January to build 35% of the 5G network.
But at a meeting of the NSC last month, Boris Johnson backed hawks, including Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, to signal that Huawei would be kicked out of Britain if intelligence chiefs changed their approach.
Ministers also agreed to work with Britain’s partners in the Five Eyes intelligence group — the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — to develop alternative technology, a move backed by Donald Trump, who has been piling pressure on the UK to take a tougher line.
The strong stance against Chinese influence comes after a diplomatic row last week between Britain and Beijing over a new law that allows China to summarily arrest pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong.
Britain announced that Hong Kong residents eligible for British passports would be allowed to move to the UK and be put on a pathway to full citizenship. Beijing threatened to retaliate.
Evicting Huawei from Britain is likely to lead to a further deterioration in relations. “No one is in the mood to tread softly with China,” a senior source said.

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