Monday 15 July 2019 1:10 pm

No technological grounds for ban on Huawei, say MPs

There is no reason to ban Chinese tech firm Huawei from the UK’s 5G network on technological grounds, a committee of MPs has concluded.

In a letter to culture secretary Jeremy Wright, the Science and Technology Select Committee said there were no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from critical infrastructure.

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“The benefits of 5G are clear and the removal of Huawei from the current or future networks could cause significant delays,” said committee chair Norman Lamb.

However, the MPs recognised there could be geopolitical or ethical considerations that the government must take into account.

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

The question of Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks has become a key factor in relations between the UK and the US, which have come under strain following the leak of sensitive memos penned by Britain’s ambassador to Washington Sir Kim Darroch.

The US has previously urged its allies to block Huawei from national infrastructure, arguing the company’s links to Beijing mean it could be used as a vehicle for state-sponsored spying. Huawei has always denied the allegations.

Top US officials have even warned that any cooperation with the controversial Chinese firm could compromise intelligence-sharing agreements.

In addition, British civil servants have reportedly advised that Huawei could be a deal-breaker in any post-Brexit trade deal with the US, and Lamb’s comments will raise further questions about how closely the UK’s foreign policy is linked to that of its larger ally.

Lamb also suggested that the government may need to consider human rights abuses in China before it makes a final decision on Huawei.

Appearing in front of the committee last month, Huawei’s head of cybersecurity parried questions about the use of the firm’s technology in Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities have detained an estimated 1m people as part of a crackdown on the local Muslim population.

John Suffolk, a former British government IT wonk, insisted that Huawei did not make ethical judgements.

The committee’s findings came as the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy opened an inquiry into the impact of the government’s approach to Huawei on national security.

Despite leaks earlier this year, which suggested the UK will allow Huawei in some parts of its 5G network, the government has yet to reveal its final decision on the matter.

Mobile operators EE and Vodafone have launched 5G in the UK using Huawei technology in non-core parts of the network, while Three is set to launch its network in August.

Read more: Huawei plans extensive US job cuts amid trade blacklisting

A total ban on Huawei would require operators to replace existing equipment with products made by competitors Nokia or Ericsson, a process the companies have warned would slow down the UK's 5G rollout significantly.

Lamb today called for the government to publish its delayed telecoms supply chain review, which will outline the UK's position on Huawei, by the end of August.

Main image credit: Getty