THE PRIME Minister is controversially allowing Huawei to be involved Britain’s new 5G mobile network – despite also formally designating it “a high risk vendor”.
The long awaited decision was taken this morning by Boris Johnson and his National Security Council and is bound to cause controversy.
Last year, the US imposed trade restrictions on Huawei over concerns about the company’s security and ties to the Chinese government.
US senators previously claimed Huawei’s “actions show a clear record of predatory and problematic behaviour”, adding it is in the “best interest” of the UK to exclude them from the 5G network.
Concerns are also being raised in the PM’s own cabinet with fears about spying rampant.
The tech giant has repeatedly denied allegations that their telecommunications equipment could be used for spying.
But Boris gave the final go-ahead this morning with the nine-strong panel of senior ministers.
Whitehall sources insisted a total ban on the company would have delayed 5G as well as full fibre’s rollout by as long as three years, and stripped “tens of billions of pounds” from the nation’s economy.
Huawei’s access has three important caveats:
- Huawei equipment will be banned from core areas of the network such
as base stations and data storage hubs, and only allowed on the
periphery of it – such as aerials and masts.
- It’s equipment will also be banned from sensitive sites, such as
military bases and power stations.
- And it’s market share in the network will be capped at 35%, so two
thirds of the network will be built by others and Huawei will not have
any monopoly stranglehold.
The government said today it is certain that these measures will mitigate the risk the risk of cyber attacks or state sponsored hacks.
The move will anger the US, who have pulled out all stops in trying to strong arm the PM into excluding Huawei from the 5G, including threats from President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to block intelligence sharing or a US-UK trade deal.
Mr Pompeo is set to fly to London later this week.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab faced a grilling on the controversial decision in the House of Commons this afternoon.
He said the new 5G network would be one of the “strongest regimes for telecomms security in the world”.
He said: “We would never take a decision that threatens our National security or the security of the Five eyes partner”.
Mr Raab went to great lengths to assure people Huawei’s involvement would not threaten the way the UK provides intelligence to its partners.
He said:”I want to be absolutely clear that nothing in this review would threaten the way we share highly sensitive intelligence over highly secure intelligence networks with other partners and Five Eyes partners”.
The Foreign Secretary did say the UK should never find itself in the position where it is forced to choose between one of only three options for telecoms giants to help with infrastructure.
“Currently the UK faces the choice of only three players… this has implications for the security and resilience of these networks as well as future innovation”.
He added: “It is a market failure that must be addressed”.
Mr Raab had to defend the PM’s decision from attacks from fellow Tory MPs.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the only way to keep the UK safe from Chinese interference through Huawei was to ban the telcoms company entirely.
Mr Davis said: “I do think Huawei should be banned by the network… even if it were not an arm of the Chinese government, a 1970 law requires it to take instruction from the Chinese intelligence agency”.
Former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said it was a “regrettable decision” and the UK “must never find itself in this position every again”.
Boris said yesterday the UK was perfectly capable of protecting its own security.
He said: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the UK, but also protect our security interests.
“We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives, and that’s the way forward.”
Intelligence chiefs have assured the PM that security risks from potential Beijing hacking were manageable.
A full ban would have left the UK with just two viable providers, Nokia and Ericsson, leaving the 5G network dangerously susceptible to
their failings, they argued.
A senior Whitehall source said: “We are clear-eyed about the challenge posed by Huawei.”
They said: “Our world leading cyber security experts know more about Huawei than any country on earth, and are satisfied that any risk can be managed.
“A market failure has left us in this position. We agree we must urgently diversity the market and are working on a strategy to achieve
this. We want to get to the position where we don’t have to use a high risk vendor in our network.”
The government have put huge restrictions on Huawei because they are labelled a “high risk vendor” that could leave the UK open to Chinese attack if not managed properly.
US Politicians have also slammed the decision.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton said: “I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing.”
He said: “The government is in a really bad situation, and I have a great deal of sympathy for it because it’s inheriting 15 years where effectively, Government hasn’t been straight about the role of Chinese high tech in our life”.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the decision was “an insult to our closest friends and a “sign that our establishment have been paid off by China”.
Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan said: “We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security.”
“High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks. “
“It is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors.”
Chief Executive of the National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin said the risks involved in giving Huawei access were manageable.
He said: “High risk vendors have never been – and never will be – in our most sensitive networks.”
“Taken together these measures add up to a very strong framework for digital security.”
There are fears that Huawei, who are heavily influenced by the Chinese government, could use their access to the 5G network to spy on the public and gain intelligence on the UK.
Almost half of all Brits disagree with Huawei being given access to the 5G.
According to a YouGov poll, 43 per cent of Brits say they disagree with the decision and only 14 per cent agree.
Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang welcomed Boris’ decision.
He said: “This decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and cost-effective telecoms infratructure that is fit for the future”.
WHAT is the 5G network?
5G is the “fifth generation” of mobile telecommunications. It will give a huge boost to data speeds and can download entire movies in only three seconds. The “system of systems” will allow a thousand times more than the current internet capacity.
The 5G network is an ambitious upgrade to the previous 4G network, and will link up all household items to the same network so that Brits can control appliances like washing machines from the other side of the world.
The number of people using data has grown from 3.7 exabytes in 2015 (3.7 billion billion bytes of information) to 30.6 exabytes by 2020. The massive demand means the UK needs an equally powerful upgrade to its systems.
5G will also make it easier to use an electricity grid to power fridges and washing machines as well as electric cars, so the UK can meet its net carbon by 2050 promise.
Connecting every item through the same networks isn’t risk free, and it gives hackers a new focus for their efforts to interfere with people’s systems and lives. There are fears China could use Huawei’s influence over the 5G network to interrupt access to crucial infrastructure such as energy utilities or airports.