Tory leadership candidate Matt Hancock is against the exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecoms infrastructure and has instead called on the government to create a British-based rival.
The contest to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister is taking place amid an ongoing debate about the role of Huawei in the UK’s rollout of 5G, with US President Donald Trump’s arrival on a state visit bringing the conversation to the top of the agenda.
Huawei has long been effectively been frozen out of the US telecoms market due to fears that its equipment is a national security risk, allegations that it has continually denied.
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Last month, US firms were ordered to stop doing business with the company, a decision which means future handsets may no longer receive updates for Google's Android operating system or access its popular applications. The US government’s actions also make it significantly harder for Huawei to source components for its devices.
America is pressuring allies to follow its lead, despite the absence of any evidence to suggest any wrongdoing from Huawei, and the UK is carrying it out its own assessment. A report was expected to arrive in the Spring but has not yet materialised. Leaks suggested that operators will not be banned from using Huawei kit in the radio layer of their networks, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Tory candidates for the Premiership are split on the issue, but according to The Telegraph, Hancock will use a speech at the Policy Exchange Think Tank to warn against reactive action and simplistic answers.
The current health minister said a long-term strategy to create a British competitor would be the most effective safeguard against foreign interference and that Huawei should not be banned until mobile operators are able to source kit from an alternative supplier.
UK operators have consistently opposed any restrictions on sourcing Huawei equipment, which is often more innovative and cost-effective than other options, arguing there is no proof that it is insecure. All four operators plan to use Huawei gear in their 5G infrastructure, although not in the core layer.
It has been speculated that any restrictions could lead to delays and cost the UK economy billions.
The US has suggested that it could limit intelligence sharing with the UK if Huawei was not banned, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it is listening to America’s warnings. However, Prime Minister Theresa May is believed to have pushed back against Washington’s insistence during talks with Trump earlier this week.
In a joint-press conference, Trump appeared to retreat from a hard-line stance. When asked whether it would restrict British access to US intelligence, Trump replied: “No, because we're going to have absolutely an agreement on Huawei and everything else. We have an incredible intelligence relationship and we will be able to work out any differences. I think we're not going to have it. We did discuss it. I see absolutely no limitations. We've never had limitations.”
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