Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street, in London, on the government's coronavirus action plan

Johnson to face Commons rebellion over Huawei 5G deal

Image credit: Alberto Pezzali/PA Wire

Boris Johnson may be facing his first House of Commons defeat since his general election victory in December 2019, as a former Tory leader urges a rebellion against the Government over the inclusion of Huawei in the UK’s 5G network.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith has tabled an amendment to the Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill – which will be debated later today (10 March) – aiming to ban “high-risk vendors” such as Chinese telecoms firm Huawei from the UK's network by 31 December 2022.

It has been suggested that up to 30 Conservatives could rebel against the Government by backing the amendment. Some 26 Tory MPs have already signed the amendment, but it will take at least 41 votes against the government for the rebels to win. With a majority of 80, the government still has some leeway before a defeat is guaranteed.

The move is backed by several high-profile Conservative MPs, including former cabinet ministers Damian Green and David Davis, Tom Tugendhat (the chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee) and Sir Graham Brady (the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee).

According to a number of Tory critics, Huawei is an arm of the Chinese state and a risk to UK security – claims which the firm has consistently rejected. The bill also reflects widespread misgivings across the Tory party over the decision to use Huawei in its 5G network, with fears that it could give China a “backdoor” to spy on the UK’s telecoms network.

Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei help build 5G has also been criticised by other foreign leaders, with US President Donald Trump reportedly blasting Johnson with “apoplectic” rage during a heated phone call regarding the 5G move.

However, a former chairman of BT warned that excluding Huawei from Britain’s 5G network will “significantly set back” the Government’s ambitions to extend broadband access to all areas of the country.

Sir Mike Rake, who now acts as an adviser to the Chinese tech giant, hit out at what he said were “ill-informed assertions” about the dangers of allowing the company access to the UK’s critical national infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Tory backbencher Bob Seely, one of the MPs behind the amendment move, said they were “laying down a marker” ahead of other legislation later in the year to establish a comprehensive telecoms security regime.

He added that there was also a “growing momentum” within the party with “three of four MPs” expressing concern for everyone likely to vote for the amendment. “We want to work with the Government, not defeat it,” he explained. “We want to co-operate with the Government to get a better solution.”

Huawei’s president for Global Government Affairs, Victor Zhang, said: “Over the last 18 months, the Government and two parliamentary committees have conducted detailed assessments of the facts and concluded there is no reason to ban Huawei from supplying 5G equipment on cyber-security grounds.

“We have been operating in Britain for nearly 20 years and played a vital role in the development and delivery of 3G and 4G for people across the UK.

“Cyber security requires high and common standards across the telecoms industry, which Huawei has always supported. Creating a 5G Britain rightly requires scrutiny and we will work with the Select Committee to address their questions in the coming months.”

In January of this year, Johnson confirmed that Huawei would be able to build “non-core” parts of the UK’s 5G networks. A series of conditions will be attached to the company’s involvement, including a 35 per cent cap on “high-risk” vendors accessing non-sensitive parts of the network. The telecoms firm was designated as a “high-risk vendor” by the National Cyber Security Centre.

“We’ve always been clear that we want to get to a position where we do not have to use high-risk vendors in our telecoms network, but we will continue to keep the 35 per cent cap under review,” a spokesman for the Prime Minister said last week.

“Our intention is for this share to reduce as market diversification takes place,” they added. “We’ve been clear that our world-leading cyber-security experts are satisfied with our approach and it won't impact on our ability to share intelligence.”

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