Huawei will be allowed to play a limited role in the UK’s 5G network, the government has said.
The decision defied security concerns, particularly from the US, about the Chinese company – and left the White House facing pressure to review its intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK.
Among the conditions for the Huawei’s involvement are:
- It will be excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks
- It will be excluded from sensitive geographic locations such as nuclear sites and military bases
- It will have a 35% cap in periphery (non-sensitive parts) of the 5G network
Sky’s defence and security correspondent Alistair Bunkall said: “The National Security Council, on the advice of intelligence agencies, particularly GCHQ, has concluded that having Huawei on the peripheries of 5G can be managed and the security risks can be mitigated.
“It won’t be a part of the core elements of 5G provision – that means in theory it won’t have oversight of messages, data sharing, for example. Instead it will be limited to the non-core factors – things like provision of aerials and antennas. Even in that respect, its share will be limited to 35%.
“Actually Huawei’s involvement overall will be really pretty limited but it reflects the influence the Chinese telecoms firm has in the technology market – an influence that few others are able to rival.”
He added: “Britain’s decision today is likely to be watched very carefully by a lot of other partners, particularly in Europe, who might decide if Britain can include Huawei in their infrastructure, why can’t everyone else?”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the decision would have “no impact” on intelligence sharing with key allies such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
He promised the government’s decision carried the “toughest regime in the world, protecting and providing the right balance on protection of our 5G infrastructure”.
Announcing the news in parliament, Mr Raab added the most significant recent attack on UK telecoms came from Russia.
A senior Trump administration official said they were “disappointed” and looked forward to working with the UK on a way to exclude untrusted vendor components from 5G networks.
US Republican senator Tom Cotton said: “In the light of this decision, the US director of national intelligence should conduct a thorough review of US-UK intelligence sharing.”
He described the decision as “deeply disappointing for American supporters of the special relationship”.
“Allowing Huawei to build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War,” Mr Cotton added.
UK Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said: “This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now.
“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.
“We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st-century technology.”
Opponents of the idea had feared that allowing the Chinese tech company to build the network would be handing control of infrastructure to Beijing.
There were also concerns that, with Huawei’s close links to the Chinese government, the equipment could be used for espionage, something the company has always denied.
After the government’s announcement, Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said the company was “reassured”.
He added: “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.”
The debate has caused tension with the US, which had warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to approve Huawei, saying it could jeopardise future intelligence-sharing between the members of Five Eyes, an alliance which comprises Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is in London on Wednesday and will meet Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Sharing an article about the decision on Huawei, Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “America has never been weaker. We have never had less influence.
“Not even our closest ally Britain, with a Trump soulmate in Downing Street, listens to us anymore.”
Several senior MPs had also voiced their concerns, among them foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat, who warned that the UK would be “allowing the fox into the hen house”.
After the decision was announced, he tweeted: “Overall, this statement leaves many concerns and does not close the UK’s networks to a frequently malign international actor.”
Tory backbencher Julian Lewis also told the Commons: “Huwaei should not be regarded as a private company because it is intimately linked with the Chinese Communist state and it’s deeply hostile intelligence agencies.”
While SNP defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald claimed: “He talks about Huawei as though it’s some kind of Chinese answer to John Lewis – this is a Faustian pact with the Chinese Communist Party.”
Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said the limits on Huawei’s involvement would ensure the UK had a “very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead”.
The implementation of 5G is expected to bring download speeds 10 times faster than 4G and is seen as critical to the country’s economic future as it leaves the European Union.
But a YouGov poll showed just 14% of Britons agreed with the decision to let Huawei be involved in non-core elements and 43% disagreed.