Boris Johnson has approved plans to allow Chinese telecoms firm Huawei a role in building the UK’s 5G phone and data network.
Despite huge pressure from Donald Trump to ban the company amid spying fears, the British government’s National Security Council decided Tuesday to give it limited access to the new hi-tech infrastructure.
In an effort to contain a row with the White House, the UK has come up with a compromise where Huawei will have a 35% cap on its market share in the new technology.
Washington has repeatedly warned that the Beijing-based firm poses a security risk and any access to Britain’s 5G would put in jeopardy U.S.-UK intelligence sharing — and possibly any post-Brexit trade deal.
But Britain’s most senior intelligence officials believe that they can manage any risk posed by Huawei, which has played a role in the UK’s 3G and 4G networks for more than a decade.
MI5 chief Sir Andrew Parker and GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre have advised ministers that there will be no extra threat if Huawei’s role is restricted to non-core parts of Britain’s new mobile network.
Non-core equipment refers to the antennas and base stations that sit on masts and rooftops, considered less vulnerable than the core servers and systems where customer information is processed.
With only two other companies, Sony Ericsson and Nokia, able to provide the necessary equipment and expertise for 5G in the UK, senior government insiders believe that excluding Huawei would cost billions more and impose serious delays on the technology rollout.
Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said: “This package will ensure that the UK has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead.
“The National Cyber Security Centre has issued advice to telecoms network operators to help with the industry rollout of 5G and full fibre networks in line with the government’s objectives.
“High-risk vendors have never been – and never will be – in our most sensitive networks.
“Taken together these measures add up to a very strong framework for digital security.”
Several American senators and members of Congress have warned that failing to ban Huawei, as Australia and New Zealand have, could lead to repercussions in crucial trade talks between the U.S. and UK.
Cabinet ministers including defence secretary Ben Wallace and home secretary Priti Patel have privately expressed concerns about Huawei.
Defending the decision, Nicky Morgan, the digital secretary, said she wanted the UK to have “world-class connectivity as soon as possible.”
“But this must not be at the expense of our national security. High-risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks,” she said.
“The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high-risk vendors.
“This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now.
“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.
“We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology.”
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith suggested on Monday he had been “led to believe” by the prime minister that the UK would not go ahead with the Chinese firm’s new access.