Senior Conservatives have written to MPs to express concerns at Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, calling on Boris Johnson to rule out the involvement of “high risk” vendors now and in the future.
The letter from a group of Tory grandees — including former ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Damian Green and Tobias Ellwood, said they were “working to find a better solution on providers for the next generation of Britain’s cellular network.
The prime minister announced a limited role for the Chinese manufacturer last month, with restrictions on its market share and involvement in core infrastructure, despite concerns over national security from ministers, MPs and British allies. On the advice of the UK security services, however, Mr Johnson concluded that any risks were manageable.
But concerns are rife among senior Tories who want the government to exclude “high-tech from untrusted, high-risk vendors” from critical national infrastructure.
“We are seeking to identify a means by which we ensure that only trusted vendors are allowed as primary contractors into our critical national infrastructure,” they said in the letter sent on Friday and seen by the Financial Times.
“Trusted vendors would be companies from countries that have fair market competition, rule of law, respect human rights, data privacy and non-coercive government agencies.”
A growing number of Conservative MPs are unhappy with Mr Johnson’s decision and have been working behind the scenes with Downing Street to strike a compromise.
There has been speculation in Westminster that the Huawei issue could prompt the first rebellion Mr Johnson’s parliamentary party since winning December’s election.
Tories opposed to Huawei are seeking a commitment to reduce the company’s role below the 35 per cent cap set out by Mr Johnson.
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said: “I’ve asked many times for the government to say they will get to zero. Their statements show there’s a way to achieve this, now I’m just waiting for the confirmation that’s the plan.”
Another senior Conservative MP sceptical of Huawei said: “All we’re looking for is a clear commitment from the prime minister that the UK is aiming for zero market share for Huawei. We’re willing to give him the time to get there, but what he announced so far isn’t good enough.”
Dominic Raab also encountered objections on the government’s Huawei decision from Australian MPs during a tour of the country to drum up support for a free trade deal.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the foreign secretary clashed with Australian MP Anthony Byrne in a meeting with the intelligence committee. “How would you feel if the Russians laid down infrastructure in your own networks? That’s how we feel about Huawei,” Mr Byrne was reported to have said.
Foreign Office insiders acknowledged that there was disagreement between the two nations on Huawei, but said the meeting between Mr Raab and Mr Byrne was “a clear discussion” and “pretty good natured”.