The government has launched a new review of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, amid reports it is planning to entirely remove the company’s equipment from British networks.
The Guardian and the Telegraph reported on Friday night that Boris Johnson is preparing to unveil plans to strip out the Chinese tech giant’s equipment from the telecoms networks by 2023, in a bid to quash a backbench rebellion over the issue.
A government spokesperson confirmed on Sunday (24 May) that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had been tasked with reviewing how new US sanctions on Huawei would impact the UK’s telecoms networks.
The news came after it emerged that up to 50 Conservative MPs would be willing to vote against existing plans to reduce the company’s market share in British telecoms networks to 35 per cent, while excluding it from the core of 5G networks. The US government has also continued to put pressure on Downing Street over the matter even after Johnson initially defied its demands to drop the company.
The move would deal a heavy blow to Huawei, which has worked in the UK for 20 years and says it is being used as a pawn in the trade war between the US and China. It denies that its technology poses a national security risk.
A decision to ban Huawei’s telecoms equipment is also likely to spark a furious response from network operators. Britain’s biggest telecoms companies have repeatedly argued that removing Huawei from the network entirely would slow down the roll out of 5G in the UK and cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
Responding to the initial reports, Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said: “We’ve seen the reports from unnamed sources which simply don’t make sense. The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks.”
In remarks issued after the news of NCSC’s investigation, Zhang added: “Our priority remains to continue the rollout of reliable and secure 5G networks across Britain. We are happy to discuss with NCSC any concerns they may have and hope to continue the close working relationship we have enjoyed for the last ten years.”
A spokesperson for the government said: “The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance. Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”