US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has ramped up the rhetoric against Huawei, invoking the legacy of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as he urged the UK to take a tougher line on the Chinese tech firm.
In an impassioned speech, Pompeo slammed the UK’s reported decision to allow Huawei to build parts of its 5G network, warning the move could put the countries’ security partnership at risk.
Read more: Pompeo set to warn May over Huawei 5G threat
“Ask yourself: would the Iron Lady be silent when China violates the sovereignty of nations through corruption or coercion?,” he said in a speech at think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.
“Insufficient security will impede the United States’ ability to share certain information within trusted networks. This is just what China wants – to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs.”
The US has led calls for a ban on Huawei amid concerns its equipment could be used for spying, and Pompeo has previously warned its allies intelligence-sharing agreements could be compromised if they work with the Chinese firm.
But Prime Minister Theresa May faced accusations she was ignoring security warnings last week after it emerged the government is set to give the green light to Huawei to build non-core parts of the country’s 5G network.
Pompeo’s comments came as culture secretary Jeremy Wright insisted the UK will not compromise national security in exchange for a more cost-effective 5G network.
Wright said the government’s telecoms supply chain review, due to be published in the coming weeks, was focused on security rather than economic competition.
“The primary purpose of the review is not to find a way of cheapening the cost of a 5G network, it is to find a way of making sure our 5G network – and our broader telecoms infrastructure – is safe,” he told a meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“I will not trade off economic benefit from cheap kit with security risk,” he added.
The reassurances fly in the face of comments made last month by chancellor Philip Hammond, who said the UK must ensure its 5G network is cost-effective as well as secure.
Wright also warned there is a risk the rollout of 5G in the UK could be delayed if Huawei is banned.
“There is certainly the possibility of a delay in the process of the roll out of 5G: If you want to do 5G fastest then you do that without any consideration for security," he said.
“But we are not prepared to do that, so I don't exclude the possibility that there will be some delay.”
Downing Street has insisted it is yet to reach a final verdict on the matter, and said its plan will be outlined in the upcoming supply chain review.
Wright declined to say when the report will be published, but said it will be “not long from now”.