Senior figures including Iain Duncan Smith and Tom Tugendhat urge reconsideration of 5G infrastructure plans
A raft of senior Conservative MPs have warned Boris Johnson the UK will be “friendless” if it allows Huawei to build its 5G network.
Former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith led a parliamentary cross-party debate urging the government to consider alternatives to the Chinese telecoms firm, as he accused the prime minister of “brushing aside” the security concerns of the UK’s allies.
It comes after Johnson confirmed in January the company would be allowed to contribute “non-core” elements of the 5G network, despite a major backlash from US president Donald Trump and senior figures within the prime minister’s own party.
Announcing the decision, the government claimed “high-risk vendors” such as Huawei would not be given access to sensitive systems, and warned it would cost billions to go with another supplier and significantly delay the rollout of super-fast mobile internet.
But speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on the decision, Duncan Smith compared the government’s commitment to the Chinese firm as being similar to a “heroin addiction”.
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“The government decision to go ahead with Huawei in the 5G network in the UK has angered our allies, perplexed many of us who see this as an avoidable risk, and in the rush, and I do believe it is a rush, to go ahead with the 5G system for the UK using Huawei products extensively, the UK government has…brushed aside the concerns of all of the most important allies, the people we rely on genuinely,” he said. “The decision by the UK government, frankly at the moment, leaves us utterly friendless amongst our allies.”
He added: “The establishment in the UK has found itself somehow locked to this Huawei process and we need to break them free. It is like getting someone off the addiction to heroin. I think we need to put them into rehab.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Committee chair and senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat warned the UK was being used as a “pawn” by the Chinese government to undermine western security alliances.
“Whatever we think about our security preparations, if our allies don’t trust us, that undermines the alliance,” he said. “If our allies do not believe we can keep their data safe that undermines the sharing of data. And if our allies don’t think we are going to be reliable, that calls into questions the alliance.”
Former DCMS select committee chair, Damian Collins added: “We should not accept critical infrastructure for this country to be built by companies in which we have no trust and which there are serious security concerns.”
But hitting back at the comments, minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman insisted there was no potential security risk from the firm, saying the government would impose “strong restrictions” on Huawei’s activity in the network.
“The UK is a global leader on cybersecurity and our world-class security agencies have set out, in a level of public detail unmatched anywhere in the world, their security analysis of the telecom sector,” he said. “There needs to be strong restrictions on their presence in the network. Over time our intention is to reduce our reliance on high-risk vendors as market diversification takes place and we want to get to a position where we do not have to use a high-risk vendor in our network at all.”