Boris Johnson is reportedly set to make a major U-turn over the use of Huawei technology in the UK’s 5G network.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, the PM could look to phase out the Chinese firm’s role in the communication network by the end of this year, following fresh concerns from spy chiefs over the safety of the technology.
The paper claims that GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has concluded that impending US sanctions on the firm will have a “severe” impact and could force them to use unsecured third party equipment.
Despite a backlash from senior figures within his own party, Johnson had last year given the green light for Huawei to build 35% of the “non-core” 5G system, claiming they would be barred from working on sensitive parts of the network.
But according to the reports, the NCSC analysis could prompt ministers to order a halt on installing new Huawei network within six months, as well as speeding up the removal of equipment that is already in place.
One Whitehall source told the Sunday Times the US sanction “fundamentally changes the calculation” about the firm.
“The US sanctions on Huawei are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The company is forbidden from using American intellectual property (IP) in its semi-conductors – they can’t even use tools to make new semi-conductors if those tools use American IP.”
They added: “Huawei is in a position without any easy fixes or loopholes. This fundamentally changes the calculation. The impacts are so severe that, given the need to give clarity to industry, there will be a decision taken and parliament will be notified this month. Everybody is planning on this basis.”
The move follows increasing concern from Conservative MPs about the involvement of Huawei, with Tom Tugendhat, chair of both the Foreign Affairs Committee and newly formed China Research Group, saying the “change of heart” was welcome.
“The NCSC’s re-evaluation of the risk Huawei poses as a supplier matches the strength of feeling in the parliamentary party and, from China Research Group polling, across the whole country,” he added.
A Huawei spokesman said: “Huawei is the most scrutinised vendor in the world and we firmly believe our unrivalled transparency in the UK means we can continue to be trusted to play a part in Britain’s gigabit upgrade. It’s important to focus on facts and not to speculate at this time.”
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