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A smartphone with the Huawei and 5G network logo is seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture taken January 29, 2020

Huawei 5G decision ‘higher priority than US trade deal’, Andrew Neil says

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The UK Government believes that 5G and fibre broadband are of greater importance to the future of the domestic economy than a trade deal with the US, Andrew Neil has said.

Speaking at Make UK’s annual conference, the veteran journalist and broadcaster said the Government is pinning its hopes on becoming the foremost technology centre in Europe and considers that more important than securing a favourable trade deal with the US.

“The Huawei deal was done when the British government decided not to be browbeaten by the Americans,” he told delegates at the event.

“A decision was taken inside government, that even if it jeopardised the free-trade deal with America, that was not as important as 5G and high-speed fibre to the future of the British economy.”

The US placed the Chinese technology firm on its entity list last year, which blocked American companies from working with it. It also strongly encouraged allies to make similar moves or risk data-sharing agreements.

But in January Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for Huawei to build parts of the UK’s 5G infrastructure as long as it did not exceed 35 per cent of the total network and did not include security-critical elements.

“If they had to make a choice,” Neil said, “they were going to 5G and high-speed broadband to make Britain the technology capital of Europe.

“They think becoming a world leader in electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, robotics, AI and so on, means that the traditional supply chain concern just becomes less important.

He added that the banning of the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2035 is meant to “concentrate minds” and shift the UK towards an economic structure based on technology.

Neil also said the Government believes that the days “of complex supply chains with components going back and forth across borders multiple times” are coming to an end and that 3D printing in particular will allow firms to outsource their suppliers.

This, he believes, is why the Government is taking a hard stance on its exit from the EU as the importance of the global trade in physical good diminishes.

But he also warned there would be “no real return to growth, investment and full confidence” until the shape of the future partnership arrangement with the EU is made clear.

Investment in the UK economy has fallen since the Brexit vote, with firms wary over the possible impact that severing ties with the EU will have on the ability for them to do business unimpaired.

Neil believes that US President Donald Trump is odds-on to win the US election in November, especially if Bernie Sanders is selected as the Democratic candidate and the domestic economy remains buoyant.

Without needing to worry about a third term, Trump will abandon any efforts to pander to the electorate and could increase his use of tariffs “when he feels like it”.

“Look out the European car industry,” Neil warned.

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