Tories heralded a ‘long march’ away from Beijing’s influence today as Boris Johnson prepares to announce that Huawei is being axed from the UK’s 5G network.
Despite threats of ‘consequences’, the PM is expected to declare that telecoms firms will be banned from installing new equipment supplied by the Chinese tech giant by Christmas.
Companies will also be told they need to rip out all existing Huawei kit by the middle of this decade – five years earlier than they say can be done without causing service blackouts.
The move, which represents a dramatic U-turn from January when Mr Johnson gave the green light for Huawei’s involvement in 5G, was welcomed by senior MPs who said the UK must break its ‘addiction to Chinese tech’.
Former Conservative leader Lord Hague said the country must not be ‘strategically dependent’ on the Asian superpower, but cautioned the decision could be the start of a ‘very long march’.
Huawei executives held last-ditch talks yesterday with officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the hope of watering down the plans.
The Huawei ban follows intense pressure from Donald Trump to deny China a foothold in the West’s critical infrastructure. Tough American sanctions have prevented the firm from using any US-patented technology in its microchips
Ministers including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and chief whip Mark Spencer (right) were in Downing Street for Cabinet today
But a Whitehall source said the ban would go ahead, adding: ‘It’s fair to say Huawei won’t be very happy with the result.’
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is expected to confirm the steps in a statement to the House of Commons later.
Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, called on the Government to take the opportunity to distance itself even further from Beijing.
In a column in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Tugendhat said it was time for the UK to kick its ‘addiction to Beijing tech’.
He said: ‘To keep power distributed and trade on the basis of law, not force, we need a new alliance. Going further than the World Trade Organisation and recognising the importance of India and Nigeria, would reinforce the interdependence of democracies against authoritarian regimes.
‘We have the innovations and size that could create a market for companies that share our values. The majority won’t be British but they’ll share our values, and that will protect us all.’
His sentiment was echoed by former Conservative leader William Hague, who wrote in the Telegraph: ‘What matters is that we should not be strategically dependent on Chinese technology for the future, and that will require building up the production of alternative companies.
‘It is not essential to rip everything out immediately – we just have to be able to maintain our own critical infrastructure for the long term.’
Lord Hague warned Beijing’s ‘ludicrous attempts to shift blame or cover up’ over the coronavirus crisis would harden opinion.
He cautioned there was currently ‘no sign’ that the US and China could find a way of defusing tensions.
‘If that continues, the Government’s retreat on Huawei will be the beginning of a very long march indeed,’ he added.
The U-turn could jeopardise Mr Johnson’s target to roll out full fibre broadband to the entire country by 2025.
BT chief executive Philip Jansen said yesterday it could take ten years to strip out Huawei’s equipment from UK networks.
He also warned of ‘outages’ and possible security risks if the sector was told to curtail all business with the Chinese technology firm during the 5G network upgrade.
Ministers are also watching for a backlash from Beijing, which has warned the UK will face consequences if it sides with the US to ban one of the jewels in China’s industrial crown.
Industry sources said yesterday the decision not to ban Huawei until Christmas left open the chance that US policy could change if President Trump fails to secure re-election in November
Former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove warned at the weekend that Beijing could even order retaliatory cyber-attacks against the UK, adding: ‘It’s a threat and I think we’ve known quite significantly that the Chinese have developed this capability and are prepared to use it.’
The Huawei ban follows intense pressure from Donald Trump to deny China a foothold in the West’s critical infrastructure.
The US has long urged its allies not to use Huawei technology because of national security concerns – concerns which have always been rejected by the company.
Meanwhile, tough American sanctions which have recently been put in place will prevent the firm from using any US-patented technology in its microchips.
Mr Johnson’s National Security Council will consider a report from the NCSC on the impact of the US sanctions on Huawei’s ability to supply the 5G network.
A Whitehall source said the sanctions have had a ‘severe’ effect on the firm, adding: ‘There is no way that we can now say their equipment is safe.’
Industry sources said yesterday the decision not to ban Huawei until Christmas left open the chance that US policy could change if President Trump fails to secure re-election in November.
But with a powerful group of Tory MPs also pushing for Huawei’s expulsion, few in Whitehall believe the firm has any prospect of long-term involvement in 5G even if Mr Trump loses.
Huawei executives held last-ditch talks yesterday with officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the hope of watering down the plans. One of the company’s offices is pictured above in Reading
Bob Seely, a Tory MP who is co-ordinator of the Huawei Interest Group, which has pressed ministers to impose a ban, yesterday welcomed signs that the Government has had a change of heart.
He said it is critical that Huawei is banned from installing new kit by the end of this year.
Huawei has always denied that its equipment represents a security risk. The firm insists it is not controlled by the Chinese state.
But critics claim Huawei is being used as a Trojan Horse by Beijing to undermine the West’s critical infrastructure.
Ministers ruled in January that Huawei – designated a ‘high risk vendor’ by the UK Government – could play a role in the construction of the nation’s new 5G network but that its involvement would be capped at 35 per cent.
Last week China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, urged the Government not to shut out Huawei warning there would be ‘consequences’ if Britain tried to treat China as a ‘hostile country’.