Minister claims government has already had ‘a number of follow-up conversations’ with vendors and is mulling final decision
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As it moves through the processes via which it plans to exclude Huawei from the UK’s next-generation networks, the government has resolved to take its time and “consider all representations” – including those from the Chinese vendor itself.
The decision to, effectively, ban Huawei from the country’s 5G infrastructure was first revealed in July 2020. The move, which represented a U-turn on a decision made six months earlier, was announced by Oliver Dowden who, at the time, was serving as digital secretary in a cabinet led by prime minister Boris Johnson.
Dowden’s successor Nadine Dorries – one of Johnson’s staunchest allies – progressed the plans to exclude the firm. She launched a public consultation process earlier this year in which the government shared and invited responses to its proposed ‘designation notice’: a document which, if implemented, will formally classify Huawei as a “high-risk” vendor. Such a classification can only be made if it is deemed to be in the interests of national security.
The consultation was divided into two strands, one of which was dedicated entirely to seeking the feedback of Huawei itself. The other sought the views of more than 30 telecoms firms on the “fairness and proportionality” of the planned timelines for the removal or limitation of Huawei kit already deployed in networks, and the proposed penalties for companies that break the rules. Penalties are set to include fines of up £100,000 for each day the company in question is in breach.
Included in the second part of the consultation were all the UK’s major telcos and network providers, including BT, Vodafone, and Sky – as well as Huawei again.
Despite the opportunity provided for the company to argue its corner, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport indicated at the time that the decision to exclude it would not be revisited or reversed. This position was reinforced by Dorries who described the consultation process as merely “the next step in removing the risks posed by Huawei”.
Seven months on, and there is new ministerial leadership in both Downing Street and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, where Michelle Donelan was recently installed as secretary of state.
In a written parliamentary question, Labour MP and shadow DCMS minister Stephanie Peacock, asked the department why it has not yet published government’s response to the consultation – a move which was expected to rubber-stamp the Huawei ban.
Answering the question, Julia Lopez – the DCMS minister with oversight of telecoms and digital infrastructure – took a seemingly less hawkish tone than some of her colleagues have previously adopted.
“Due to the technical and security implications of this consultation, it is right that we have taken time to consider and understand all representations – including those from Huawei,” she said. “A number of follow up conversations have taken place to ensure that we fully understand all representations, and any implications that may arise from a decision.”
She added that Donelan is still considering whether to finally, and formally exclude Huawei from UK networks. She is also examining potential issues with the proposed deadlines, which ask network providers to remove Huawei’s “high-data-rate transmission equipment” by the end of 2025, and entirely strip out the vendor’s kit by the end of 2027.
“Having received and considered consultation responses, and having held follow-up conversations, the secretary of state is now deciding how to respond, and whether or not to issue a designation notice and designated vendor directions for Huawei,” Lopez said. The outcome of this decision-making process will be communicated to all relevant parties once it has been taken. If a decision is taken to issue a designated vendor direction for Huawei, any requirements and deadlines included in the direction will be proportionate to the aim of protecting national security. Where consultees have raised concerns over deadlines, we are considering their concerns fully.”