Tory MP Mark Francois assured US congressman Mike Turner that Chinese tech giant Huawei was “already out of the [5G] network”, saying “we just haven’t ripped them out yet”.
Speaking at a Defence Committee meeting discussing the security implications of Huawei’s 5G involvement on Tuesday (16 June), Francois noted that the UK government has organised a security review into the company following concern that not enough MPs would sign off on a bill outlining Huawei’s role in the network.
“The government have now realised that they will not get such a bill through the House of Commons, unless it specifically excludes Huawei from our 5G network,” said Francois. He called the government review, which will be carried out by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), “effectively a fig leaf” for dropping Huawei. Turner responded: “That’s a very encouraging statement.”
However, Francois was immediately undermined by Labour MP Kevan Jones, who denounced Francois’ comment as “very simplistic about the extent to which it would cost the UK economy and everybody else to rip out” Huawei technology from the UK’s mobile networks, saying “I wouldn’t read too much into what Mark has said”.
Earlier this year UK ministers decided to limit Huawei to 35 per cent of the British 5G network supply, but the US has applied continuous pressure about the security implications of the company’s involvement. This is despite the UK’s security agencies saying the risk could be managed – something that prompted MPs to ask senator Tom Cotton whether the US’ concerns were geopolitical rather than security-related in a previous Defence Committee meeting.
Turner was asked whether the Five Eyes intelligence alliance would become “four eyes” if the UK continued down the same route with Huawei. Turner responded that “the relationship between our two countries is never going to be diminished”, but that “the ability and especially in the manner in which we share information will inevitably be impacted” if that were to be the case. “That will result in inefficiencies that will result in some blindness and […] will affect the operational aspect of the relationship, which will diminish the exchange,” he said.
Committee chair Julian Knight suggested that Five Eyes or NATO could be a force for “redesigning international architecture” as “the battlefield is now moving from terrain […] to data”. Turner responded “absolutely”, saying this was within the “jurisdiction of NATO”.
Turner appeared eager to stoke anxieties over China, bemoaning the fact that the average twenty-something considered Google or Facebook a much greater threat to their privacy than China “because we’ve not done a really good job of telling the story of the really nefarious motivations of China and their insidious implementation into our own technologies”.
Tory MP Stuart Anderson asked: “Do you believe that we’re heading for a clash of global ideology between China and the West?” “China is on the move,” said Turner. “If you look to their implementation of military equipment, they’ve moved on to hypersonics. They’ve moved on to much more complex nuclear weapon systems that they’re implementing both in sea and in the air, and have very capable overall operating equipment […].”
Tory MP Sarah Atherton asked, “What course is China plotting? What’s it trying to achieve?” to which Turner responded: “If you look at what they’re doing to their own population with the surveillance society and what they’re doing also in Africa, where we’ve seen […] nefarious intentions with the use of data, […] it’s an implementation of a system of control. I think [it’s] that subjugation of our populace [that] we have to be concerned about.”