Donald Trump has urged the UK to be “very careful” in its approach to the Chinese tech giant Huawei given the sensitivity of Britain’s intelligence sharing partnership with US.
In an interview with the Sunday Times ahead of his state visit this week, the US president appeared to suggest that the partnership could be compromised if Britain invites Huawei to participate in the roll out of its 5G network.
“We have been very, very open with your country having to do with security measures and intelligence,” he told the newspaper. “That is why we say it is very important that they study that situation very carefully.”
The US has previously threatened to withhold intelligence from allies which agree to host Huawei equipment in their 5G networks. However, the position appears less tenable when it comes to the UK, considering the US’s reliance on intelligence produced by GCHQ.
But Trump’s intervention is likely to heap pressure on Conservative leadership candidates to distance themselves from Theresa May’s approach to the issue. Before announcing she was set to resign, the prime minister was preparing to give the company the green light to work in non-core parts of the UK’s 5G network.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, the foreign and home secretaries, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid – both of whom have declared they are running to be the next Conservative leader – said separately that they would reconsider the government’s position on the matter.
Javid said he “[would not want] any company, whichever country it’s from, that has a high degree of control by a foreign government, to have access to our very sensitive tech communications”.
Hunt, meanwhile, told CBS: “We have to ask as Western countries whether it is wise to allow one country to have such a commanding monopoly in the technologies that we’re all of us going to be depending on.”
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Whoever takes over from May will be forced to decide between Washington and Beijing. Turning down Huawei could threaten the UK’s chances of securing a trade deal with China after Brexit. Meanwhile, giving the company the green light is likely to damage the prospects of developing a closer trading partnership with the US.