BORIS Johnson sparked a potential transatlantic crisis and backbench rebellion by allowing Huawei a role in Britain’s new 5G network despite spying risk fears.
The long-awaited decision giving the go-ahead to the Chinese telecoms giant against US advice was taken by the PM and his National Security Council.
But the nine-strong panel of senior ministers slapped a series of limitations on Huawei’s involvement in a bid to manage any security danger and defuse anger.
Downing Street said Britain’s economy would have suffered a serious hit if Huawei had been locked out completely from the major new national mobile internet.
The rollout of 5G as well as faster full-fibre broadband would be delayed by two to three years and “tens of billions of pounds” would have been stripped out of the economy.
The PM also answered a plea by intelligence chiefs to boost Britain’s telecoms industry to make sure it never has to rely on China’s again.
‘A TOTALLY F***ING SHIT DECISION’
The Sun can reveal the heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 called on him to develop a home-grown alternative in time for a 6G network.
The three limitations slapped on Huawei’s 5G involvement are:
- Its equipment will be banned from core areas of the network such as base stations and data storage hubs. It will only be allowed on the periphery, such as aerials and masts.
- The firm will also be barred from sensitive sites, such as military bases and power stations.
- Huawei’s market share in the network will be capped at 35 per cent to deny it any stranglehold.
But that did little to stem fury among politicians in Washington DC, after pleas for a ban by US President Donald Trump downwards were ignored.
The Sun can reveal senior Tory backbenchers are considering a Commons rebellion to try to force a ban on Huawei, with one calling it “a totally f***ing shit decision”.
Several prominent Conservatives are now in talks about voting down or amending new legislation expected next month to bolster Ofcom’s powers to watch over 5G’s security, and “put out feelers” for how much support they might have.
If 45 vote with the opposition, Mr Johnson would suffer the first defeat of his new government.
In America, livid congressmen from across the political divide demanded that the “special relationship” between Britain and the States should be urgently reviewed.
Republican Liz Cheney accused Boris of having “chosen the surveillance state over the special relationship”.
Democrat Ruben Gallego said: “Our intelligence sharing capability is going to be compromised by this penny-pinching action.”
A senior Trump administration official warned: “There is no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network.”
The PM spoke to President Trump last night to explain his decision, and to pledge to work with him on an alternative UK-US provider for 6G.
There is no safe option for untrusted vendors to control any part of a 5G network.
Donald Trump’s administration official
In the Commons, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the decision was based on “many months” of painstaking evaluation by GCHQ’s cyber experts.
He tried to reassure MPs by saying: “We would never take decisions that threaten our national security or the security of our Five Eyes partners.
“We know more about Huawei, and the risks it poses, than any other country in the world.”
On the new Government vow to develop a future homegrown alternative, he added: “It is essential we are never again in a position of having such limited choices when deploying such important new technologies.”
But former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith hit back: “We have a cyber war going on with China. They are constantly trying to break into our systems and put misinformation about.
“It slightly beggars belief why we’re using an organisation that we know is trying to mess with our systems and is involved in China’s secret state apparatus.”
In a bid to reassure US politicians, No10 also insists intelligence sharing with other countries is not at risk from the Huawei decision because it has nothing to do with the secure communications that our spies use.
A full ban would have left the UK with just two viable providers, Nokia and Ericsson — leaving the 5G network dangerously susceptible to any failings, GCHQ experts argued.
Downing Street aides dubbed the NSC decision “unanimous”, despite at least three members, Priti Patel, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss, bitterly opposing any Huawei involvement.
Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang said: “It gives the UK access to world-leading technology.”
Former PM Theresa May had agreed to allow Huawei the same limited access last year before a Government row exploded over it.
Lose-lose for plea to stop deal
By Tom Newton Dunn, Political Editor
GIVING Huawei a role in Britain’s 5G mobile network is “like putting Russia in charge of athletics anti-doping”, one senior US official warned on a trip to London this month.
He was part of a high powered American delegation, armed with an array of sinister facts about the vast Chinese telecommunications company.
They were all rolled out in painstaking detail to Cabinet ministers, in a desperate final bid to talk them into banning Huawei from 5G’s rollout here.
Did they know Huawei developed surveillance equipment for ’re-education’ camps in Xinjiang province, where the Muslim Uighur population is being brutally repressed?
And were they aware on that Huawei helps African despots penetrate opposition politicians’ networks and spy on dissidents?
What about the espionage operation that Huawei were accused of conducting in the African Union’s HQ in Addis Ababa, where every night between 12-2am its silent severs would whir into action and transmit vast tranches of data back to the motherland?
They were aware of it all, the ministers told the Americans.
British intelligence chiefs have long considered Huawei as little more than a discreet arm of the Chinese state.
It can at times be hard to work out where one begins and the other ends, its critics say, and its market leading status in 5G is just a gateway for it to spy even deeper on the West.
It’s not hard to find evidence for that arguement.
A law passed by Beijing in 2017 compelled all Chinese companies to collaborate with what it called “national intelligence work”, and Huawei’s founder and chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, is a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army.
Boris Johnson’s advisers insist the 5G decision was “a classic lose-lose”, where he was damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Banning Huawei would mean up to three years of delay for the 5G network, that will be all-important for AI and future productivity, with no other credible provider able to step in.
But giving them even a limited role would infuriate the US and Tory MPs, as well as morally stink to high hell.
Why has it come to this? Because British governments for the last 20 years have been asleep at the wheel – failing to see the risk posed by China, and at the same time doing nothing to stop our own telecoms industry from no longer being able to compete.
BT was allowed to sign a deal with Huawei as long ago as 2005 without ministers even finding out until a year later.
So, his allies insist, the only decision the PM could have taken was to hold his nose, and ask if the security risks could be mitigated.
Priding themselves on their world-beating knowhow, GCHQ said yes, they could be.
It will take some years before any of us know whether they are right.
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