Huawei decision: UK ‘right to stand up to China’
The government would be right to “stand up” to China by denying Huawei access to the UK’s 5G network, the chairman of the Commons defence committee has said.
Six months after agreeing the Chinese telecoms company could set up some of the network, ministers are expected to ban it from installing equipment.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told the BBC it was important to prevent “control of data” by Beijing.
But Huawei says it would not cause harm to any country.
In January, the government announced the company would be kept out of the sensitive core of the 5G network – including national intelligence – but be allowed involvement in up to 35% of other parts.
This prompted criticism from backbench Conservative MPs, who called Huawei an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and a risk to the UK. The US, with which the UK shares much of its intelligence, also applied diplomatic pressure for a rethink.
Under its revised plans, the government is expected to say Huawei will not be allowed to install any equipment for the 5G network from next year.
Mr Ellwood told the BBC News Channel he was “pleased”, adding: “This is a first opportunity for the government to stand up and say, ‘No more.’ It’s the first indication that we are going to stand up.”
He said China was “taking advantage of our rickety world order to pursue its agenda”, which would “end up in a clash of ideology”.
The government thought it had made its decision on Huawei earlier this year. It wanted to get on with delivering faster internet and thought Huawei was best placed to ensure speedy upgrades.
But since then the US has continued to apply pressure – with its decision to impose new sanctions on China a crucial factor.
Meanwhile, dozens of Tory backbenchers continued their opposition – and refused to fall in line. They will be scrutinising the detail of today’s announcement. As well as a ban on Huawei’s future involvement, many want current infrastructure run by the company removed.
However, ministers have to balance this with their commitments on faster broadband speeds. Telecoms chiefs have warned if things happen too fast without proper alternatives, we could see a reduction in some services and even blackouts.
Mr Ellwood also said global power struggles would become more “about control of data”, adding: “If you control data, you control the way we live… It’s right that we now stand up and have an adult conversation with China.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, former Conservative leader Lord Hague says that opinion in Parliament “has moved so significantly against Chinese technology that the government” realised it “could no longer win a Commons vote on this issue without a major concession”.
The US has claimed China could use Huawei to “spy, steal or attack” the UK – but the company denies this and its founder has said he would rather shut the company down than do anything to damage its clients.
Sanctions imposed in May by Washington have limited China’s access to US chip technology, which prompted the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre to launch a review of the use of Huawei.
Mr Ellwood said: “People are revisiting their views on China, not least because of the Covid-19 scandal.”
He also cited military aggression in the South China Sea, warning of a “bipolar world” in which China would “slowly overtake” the US.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is expected to set out the government’s change of policy in the House of Commons on Tuesday.