UK pledges to make decision on Huawei 5G involvement by end of year

28 Aug 2019

Image: PA Media

UK digital secretary Nicky Morgan has warned that the decision as to whether Huawei will have a hand in building the country’s 5G infrastructure cannot be taken lightly.

The fate of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network could be decided by the end of the year, the country’s digital secretary Nicky Morgan has said.

“I would hope that we can do something by the autumn, but we want to make the right decision and we’ve got to make sure that this is going to be a decision for the long term, making sure that we keep all our networks secure,” Morgan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Huawei is not involved in the provision of government networks at the moment and that’s absolutely going to stay the same way, but we will look at all circumstances.”

Earlier this month, Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, stated he does not believe the UK will exclude the firm. Zhengfai said: “I think they won’t say no to us as long as they go through those rigorous tests and look at it in a serious manner and I think if they do say no, it won’t be to us.”

Additionally, the UK science and technology select committee said there are no technological grounds for banning Huawei in a report published in July, but noted that some ethical concerns remain.

“The [UK government] also needs to consider whether the use of Huawei’s technology would jeopardise this country’s ongoing cooperation with our major allies,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Dominic Grieve’s intelligence and security committee previously urged that a decision needs to be made “as a matter of priority” for prime minister Boris Johnson, warning that the extent of the delay is “damaging the UK’s international relationships”.

US concerns

Since the news was first revealed that Huawei may play a role in building the UK’s 5G infrastructure via a leak from the country’s National Security Council, the decision has been mired with controversy.

The Chinese telecoms giant has had repeated accusations of espionage levelled against it from the US – accusations that it has always denied. Things escalated, however, when the Trump administration placed Huawei on an ‘entity ban’ list earlier this year, effectively banning it from trading with US companies. This had a significant impact on the company’s business and put a spanner in the works for the planned release of the Mate X notebook laptop.

Amid this, the US has strenuously lobbied the UK to overturn its decision to involve Huawei in its 5G infrastructure plans. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo visited the UK in recent months and asked then-prime minister Theresa May to rethink the decision, suggesting that pressing ahead could damage the vital intelligence-sharing relationship the UK and US share.

At the time of Pompeo’s visit, speculation was already rife that whomever succeeded May would overturn the decision. Current UK prime minister Boris Johnson has previously indicated, speaking to Reuters, that he would not “do anything to compromise [the UK’s] vital national security infrastructure”.

– Eva Short, with additional reporting by PA Media