Chinese tech giant Huawei will be able to play a role in Britain’s 5G network despite US pressure to block its involvement, the government has confirmed.
The US has long pressed Britain to avoid the firm when seeking equipment for 5G amid security concerns.
Boris Johnson hosted a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the decision today, after which he determined Huawei’s involvement would be given the greenlight subject to a number of restrictions.
The PM agreed that guidance should be issued by the National Cyber Security Centre laying out a number of measures.
In a statement, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said such vendors, deemed “high risk”, 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% in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connects devices and equipment to mobile phone masts
The implementation of 5G is expected to bring with it download speeds 10 times faster than what 4G currently offers.
The prime minister has long talked of the “technological progress” he hopes the new network could enable, which coincides with his government’s “levelling up” strategy in regards to nationwide infrastructure.
Culture 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.
“The Government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors.”
Huawei has welcomed the decision.
The company’s vice-president Victor Zhang said: “Huawei is reassured by the UK Government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track.
“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.
“It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.
“We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years.”
Expanding in its evaluation following the decision, the National Cyber Security Centre stressed that it was “important to avoid the situation in which the UK becomes nationally dependent on a particular supplier”.
It added: “Without government intervention, the NCSC considers there to be a realistic likelihood that due to commercial factors the UK would become ‘nationally dependent’ on Huawei within three years.”
It said national dependence on a high-risk vendor would present a “significant national security risk”.
Huawei’s role in the UK’s telecoms system has been subject to oversight since 2010.
The analysis said: “Due to the UK’s mitigation strategy, which includes HCSEC as an essential component, our assessment is that the risk of Trojan functionality in Huawei equipment remains manageable.
“Placing ‘backdoors’ in any Huawei equipment supplied into the UK is not the lowest risk, easiest to perform or most effective means for the Chinese state to perform a major cyber attack on UK telecoms networks today.”
The decision puts the PM on course for a clash with many Tory MPs as well as the US.
President Trump’s administration has lobbied against the UK allowing Huawei access.
As it takes on China in a trade war, the US warned that British sovereignty would be put at risk by the move. It has issued threats over an impact on intelligence sharing.
Nearly half of Brits disagree with the use of Huawei, according to a YouGov poll.
Some 20 per cent strongly disagree while 23 per cent somewhat disagree, putting 43 per cent against it.
In contrast 12 per cent somewhat agree and two strongly agree.
Around 43 per cent of those polled said they didn’t know how they felt.