The government will ban new Huawei products from being a part of the UK’s 5G network from next year and all its existing infrastructure will be removed by 2027 in a major U-turn.
Huawei will also be banned from supplying equipment to the UK’s new full fibre broadband network, with the embargo likely to begin in two years’ time after an official review is made.
The move will delay the rollout of the 5G network by an estimated two to three years, from an original target of 2025, and will cost taxpayers an extra £2bn.
The government voted to allow Huawei to build non-core elements of the 5G network, making up to 35 per cent of the total system, in February despite labelling the company as a “high risk vendor”.
Today’s decision was taken after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) ruled that new US sanctions aimed at the Chinese telecoms giant meant that the UK could not guarantee security in the new 5G and full fibre networks.
It has been speculated that Huawei could be used as an arm of the Chinese state to launch cyber security and surveillance attacks, after similar incidents in the province of Xinjiang.
It’s a charge that Huawei and Beijing deny.
Announcing the ban, culture and digital secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs: “The UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment affected by the change in US direct product sanctions.
“Our ambition right from the very beginning is that no one should need to use a high risk vendor for 5G at all.”
New purchases of 5G equipment from Huawei will be banned from 31 December this year.
Already placed equipment – which would make up less than 10 per cent of the network when fully built – will not be removed for another seven years as the existing security threat is not deemed to be high and it would be considered too disruptive.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that Nokia and Ericsson are the only other companies currently able to supply 5G infrastructure.
Dowden said the UK would support other companies, such as Samsung and NEC, gaining 5G capability over the coming years.
Existing Huawei equipment in the country’s 2G, 3G, 4G and full fibre networks will not be removed.
A Huawei spokesperson said the announcement was “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone”.
“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide,” they said.
“Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”
The U-turn from the government is expected draw fury from the Chinese government who insist they would not use Huawei to conduct surveillance in foreign countries.
It comes just after the UK and China butted heads over Boris Johnson’s plan to allow almost 3m Hong Kongers to come to the UK on a special visa, with a pathway to citizenship, after Beijing implemented new security laws in the region.
“Let me assure members we are clear eyed about China,” Dowden said.
“We have been robust in our response to the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong, including our generous offer to British National (Overseas) holders.
“What we want is a modern and mature relationship with China based on mutual respect, where we’re able to speak frankly when we disagree but also to work side by side with China where our interests converge.”
Donald Trump’s sanctions against Huawei mean that no chips used by the company in its supply chain can be manufactured in the US.
This has meant that some of the company’s biggest suppliers will be banned from doing business with Huawei.
The UK joins fellow Five Eyes security partners Australia and the US in banning Huawei from building new 5G networks.
Other Five Eyes partners Canada and New Zealand have not moved to block out the Chinese company from their respective networks.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of the key voices in the Huawei Interest Group of Tory MPs, said they he wanted to see Huawei removed from 5G by 2024 – a full three years earlier than planned.
“Let’s bring it forward to five [years] and make it happen quickly, there’s no reason why they can’t,” he said.