Defence Secretary Ben Wallace 'urged Boris Johnson to shun Huawei'

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ‘urged Boris Johnson to heed US warnings over Huawei’s 5G role’ in crunch security meeting saying China was ‘a friend of no-one’

  • The government confirmed yesterday that Huawei will get role in the 5G network
  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace believed to have urged PM to heed US warnings 
  • White House had cautioned that involvement of Chinese tech giant was a big risk
  • UK insists that Huawei will only have limited role and dangers can be managed 

Boris Johnson defied misgivings from his own ministers to press ahead with letting Huawei have a role in the 5G network, it was claimed today.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is said to have urged the PM at a crunch National Security Council meeting to heed warnings from the US over the Chinese tech giant.

Mr Wallace branded Beijing a ‘friend of no-one’, according to the Times – but eventually accepted the decision to allow the firm ‘limited’ involvement in the infrastructure project.

The wrangling emerged as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flies into Britain for what could be a turbulent visit.

The White House voiced ‘disappointment’ over the decision, after intensely lobbying for the UK to shun Huawei. 

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured left arriving for the National Security Council meeting yesterday) is said to have urged the PM at a crunch National Security Council meeting to heed warnings from the US over the Chinese tech giant

The Government acknowledged Huawei is a ‘high risk vendor’ but argues that it will not have a role in the core parts of the 5G network


The wrangling emerged as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) flies into Britain for what could be a turbulent visit. He is expected to hold talks with Mr Johnson (right) tomorrow 

There have been warnings that intelligence-sharing could be at risk, although the government insists there is no link between 5G and dissemination of classified material.

Mr Johnson spoke to Donald Trump by telephone yesterday to explain the move in an attempt to defuse the row.

Former Cabinet minister Damian Green warned this morning that Mr Johnson could face a damaging Commons revolt on the issue – despite his huge 80-strong majority.

Pointing out that a slew of Tory MPs criticised the decision during a debate yesterday, Mr Green told BBC Radio 4”s Today programme: ‘One of the things that that frankly surprised me was the breadth of the opposition to the current stance of the government on the Conservative back benches.

Why is Huawei so important to 5G?

Huawei has invested billions of pounds into research and development around 5G network infrastructure and, as a result, is now considered the industry leader in 5G technology.

It is also already part of the existing network infrastructure in a number of countries, including in the UK.

As a result, using one of Huawei’s rivals, and most likely alternatives – Ericsson or Nokia – for the building of 5G networks, would likely cause a delay and add cost to the introduction of widespread 5G in the UK.

In contrast, none of the four largest mobile carriers in the United States use Huawei equipment in their networks.

‘We don’t know yet, when push comes to shove and votes happen, how many people will actually put their heads above the parapet. But certainly it’s very widespread.’ 

With Washington focused on the unveiling of the president’s Middle East peace plan, the official response to the news from London was muted.

However a series of senior congressional figures spoke out to condemn the move – warning it could damage Boris Johnson’s hopes of a swift, post-Brexit trade deal.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a strong supporter of the president, said he was ‘very concerned’ and urged the UK to think again.

‘This decision has the potential to jeopardise US-UK intelligence sharing agreements and could greatly complicate a US-UK free trade agreement,’ he tweeted.

‘I hope the British government will reconsider its decision.’

Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, described the decision as ‘disconcerting’.

‘By prioritising costs, the UK is sacrificing national security and inviting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state in. I implore our British allies to reverse their decision,’ he said.

Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate intelligence committee called for a ‘thorough review’ of intelligence sharing arrangements with the UK.

‘I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing,’ he said.

‘Allowing Huawei to the build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War.’

Why is Huawei’s involvement in UK 5G controversial?

Huawei has come under scrutiny over allegations of close ties to the Chinese state.

Founder Ren Zhengfei’s past links to the military have been cited as a concern, as has China’s history of state sponsorship and surveillance.

Chinese law can also compel firms to co-operate with Chinese national intelligence work, which some critics have suggested could see Beijing require Huawei to spy on people through so-called ‘back doors’ in its telecoms equipment.

Huawei has vehemently denied the allegations of any ties with the Chinese state and says it abides by the laws of every country in which it operates.

However, Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said Britain’s use of Huawei equipment in its 4G network meant the UK was better placed than others to monitor possible spying by China within the 5G network roll-out.

The Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’ve had conversations with our other allies around the world to make absolutely clear that yesterday’s decision in no way affects the ability for the UK to share classified data with our allies and partners, including the US.

‘But the US start from a different position from us because they haven’t had Huawei in their 4G networks.

‘We’ve got that expertise, we’ve had the oversight of Huawei for quite a number of years now, which gives our agencies the ability to give reassurance that having them involved in the periphery of the network does not present the security challenge I think others are worried about.’

Mr Pompeo’s two-day visit – during which he will meet Mr Johnson and Dominic Raab – is likely to offer the first real indication of the extent of any damage to the so-called special relationship.

 The US administration has consistently argued that giving Huawei a role in 5G could allow the Chinese a ‘back door’ into the telecoms network through which they could carry out espionage or cyber attacks.

President Trump raised the issue personally with Mr Johnson at December’s meeting of Nato leaders in London while a high-level delegation was dispatched from Washington earlier this month in a last ditch attempt to persuade ministers not to go ahead.

Restrictions being placed by ministers on ‘high-risk’ 5G vendors  

The advice being issued to UK telecoms operators is that ‘high-risk vendors’ should be:

  • Excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks in critical national infrastructure
  • Excluded from security critical ‘core’ functions, the sensitive part of the network
  • Excluded from sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases
  • Limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 per cent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts

The Government has acknowledged Huawei is a ‘high risk vendor’ but argues that by banning it from the most sensitive elements of the network and restricting its involvement to 35 per cent, it can manage the risks.

The clash comes at sensitive moment in US-UK relations – just as Mr Johnson is hoping to make rapid progress on a trade deal.

The US has already threatened to retaliate with tariffs on the UK car industry, if the Government goes ahead with a planned tax on big tech companies.

The two countries are also at odds over the Iran nuclear deal and the refusal of the US to extradite the wife of an American intelligence official charged with causing the death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson is facing a backlash at home from Tory MPs fiercely opposed to the Huawei decision, including former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Brexit secretary David Davis.

Ministers have said they will legislate at the ‘earliest opportunity’ to put the new guidance on telecoms providers into law, opening up the prospect of a potentially damaging Commons revolt.

Mr Johnson however appears to have concluded that honouring his general election pledge to ‘level up’ the ‘left behind’ areas of the country must be the priority.

Rolling out 5G across the country is regarded as key to improving economic performance and excluding Huawei would mean delays and higher costs.

Mr Johnson called Donald Trump (pictured in Washington last night) to explain the Huawei decision, but the White House made clear it was ‘disappointed’

 

 

 

 

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