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MPs say there are no technical grounds for Huawei ban

An influential committee of MPs has concluded that there are no technical grounds for issuing an outright ban on Huawei’s telecoms equipment in the UK.

In a letter to government, the science and technology committee warned on Monday (15 July) that an outright ban would not “constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers”.

But the cross-party group of MPs called on ministers to also consider the potential ethical and geopolitical consequences of allowing British telecoms networks to buy Huawei’s 5G equipment.

“The benefits of 5G are clear and the removal of Huawei from the current or future networks could cause significant delays,” said the committee’s chair Norman Lamb in a statement.

“However, as outlined in the letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we feel there may well be geopolitical or ethical considerations that the Government need to take into account when deciding whether they should use Huawei’s equipment.”

In recent months, British officials tasked with reviewing the UK’s telecoms supply chain have come under mounting pressure from the US to ban Huawei equipment. While the company denies that it poses a security risk, the US has threatened to withhold intelligence from the UK if it refuses to lock out the firm’s technology.

Rather than banning Huawei entirely, the government instead intended to restrict the company to operating outside of the core of the 5G network, according to a leak reported by the Telegraph in April. The committee supports this approach, which the UK’s network operators have already voluntarily taken.

The US is preparing to lift trade restrictions on Huawei’s US suppliers in the coming weeks, Reuters reported on Monday. Details of the plan emerged after Donald Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Xinping last month. But it remains to be seen if the softening of the US’s stance on trade with Huawei will translate to a shift in policy on its telecoms equipment. In a press conference on Thursday, Robert Strayer, the US deputy assistant for cyber security, said:

“Any country that deploys Huawei equipment in any part of its 5th generation infrastructure will be a network… that we need to assess ourselves and make a determination about how we will respond going forward.”

As well as calling for restrictions on the role Huawei plays in the UK’s telecoms networks, the science and tech committee raised concerns about Huawei’s failure to fix security flaws identified by British analysts last year. The committee said Ofcom’s powers should be strengthened “in order to help improve cyber security”. It also called on government to consider whether other telecoms should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as Huawei through official oversight centres.

Victor Zhang, senior vice-president, Huawei said: “We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”

A government spokesperson said: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson added that the review would be published “in due course”.