One of Westminster’s most senior MPs has warned on the eve of the Huawei announcement that a deal with the tech giant would “hand control to Beijing”.
Tom Tugendhat, who is seeking re-election as chair of the powerful foreign affairs select committee, today said the decision over whether the Chinese firm will be granted a role in building the UK’s 5G network reflected the “values we will defend in the years to come”.
“Get it right – we’re an independent trading nation upholding the rules,” he wrote in a tweet. “Get it wrong – we’ve taken back control from Brussels only to hand it to Beijing.”
The stark warning came ahead of an expected announcement on Tuesday that is set to put Downing Street on a collision course with Donald Trump.
The US President is said to have warned Johnson that giving the green light to Huawei would pose a serious risk to national security, sparking fears of a rift in the so-called special relationship between the US and the UK.
Trump suggested that the two nations build an alternative to the Chinese company together, but UK officials argue this would take too long, the Sunday Times reported.
The US has fronted a fierce campaign against Huawei, citing fears the company’s kit could be used for spying by authorities in Beijing. Trump’s administration has repeatedly urged the UK not to collaborate with Huawei, and secretary of state Mike Pompeo is in the UK this week to ramp up lobbying efforts.
However, Whitehall officials have reportedly recommended granting a limited role to the firm, stating that any risk to national security could be mitigated.
All four major mobile providers have now launched their 5G networks using some Huawei equipment, and industry experts have warned a ban on Huawei would slow down the rollout of the next-generation network.
But the decision risks sparking anger across the pond, and three US senators — including former presidential candidate Marco Rubio — have written to the National Security Council urging ministers not to allow Huawei to build the UK’s critical national infrastructure.
The row over Huawei has also played into transatlantic trade negotiations, and Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin has promised to “dedicate a lot of resources” to a US-UK trade deal this year if Britain heeded his country’s advice.
In addition to the security concerns, Trump’s administration has previously warned that any cooperation with Huawei could compromise intelligence sharing agreements between the US and the UK — a claim denied by British security chiefs.
The debate has also ignited a row within the Cabinet, with home secretary Priti Patel and defence secretary Ben Wallace said to be “on the warpath” amid claims Johnson has been “bounced” by officials into giving Huawei the green light.
Patel today denied the claim, telling Sky News: “That’s not accurate, you shouldn’t take too literally what you’re reading in the Sunday newspapers.”
However, other ministers have voiced concerns about the government’s apparent decision to ignore warnings from US counterparts.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Tory MP Bob Seely echoed calls for a ban on Huawei, branding the company a “hi-tech front for the Chinese state”.
The row over Huawei has reverberated throughout many of the UK’s allies, with the issue creating a rift in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.
In a hardening of rhetoric, Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s BDI business lobby, today said any company that posed a security risk should be shut out of the country’s mobile network.
“There must not be any interference from foreign countries,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper. “The security of data and networks has top priority.”