THE UNITED KINGDOM has fallen into line with the United States in excluding Huawei Technologies from its 5G network. The government announced today that domestic telecoms providers would have to stop buying new Huawei kit by the end of this year and remove existing equipment from their 5G networks by 2027.
The new policy does not apply to Huawei kit in 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Oliver Dowden, the Digital Secretary, told parliament that its latest decision would delay the UK’s roll-out of 5G by more than a year and add millions of pounds to its cost. (Update: UK officials now pegging cost at up to £2 billion ($2.5 billion) and delay at two to three years.)
After a review in January, the United Kingdom previously decided that Huawei could remain in non-core parts of the country’s network but capped at a 35% market share. This was in effect taking a line that the national security risk of Chinese equipment on the UK network could be mitigated.
The government has reversed that view, accepting Washington’s position that telecoms equipment that cannot be trusted is a national security threat to be beaten, and that mitigation cannot work. The UK U-turn follows May’s US sanctions designed to disrupt Huawei’s ability to get its chips manufactured. Concerns over Huawei’s supply chain reliability as much as Washington’s diplomatic pressure, intense as it has been, seem to have weighed in London’s latest decision — or at least in its presentation of it.
Other political factors in play are growing belligerence among UK lawmakers — particularly those from UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party — and across Europe about inbound Chinese investment and influence, the United Kingdom’s need for a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States and the increasingly fractious relationship between London and Beijing over both the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong.
Excluding Huawei from the United Kingdom gives Beijing one less reason to go easy on Hong Kong following the imposition of its national security law.
Nonetheless, London’s decision is being lauded in Washington, which was infuriated by the January review, and welcomed in Brussels. Our man in Washington sends word that officials in the administration are expecting the United Kingdom’s change of heart to resonate among other Western nations.
It is likely to be greeted with annoyance in Beijing, however, and taken as further confirmation of the United Kingdom operates as an arm of US foreign policy (hence the United Kingdom’s emphasis on the supply chain security element to its decision). London will be on alert for retaliatory measures from China in what will inevitably be a period of tense relations between the two.
Separately, Lord Browne, the former head of BP, who had been hired by Huawei five years ago to provide a respected and well-connected face at the head of its UK operations, has said he will be stepping down early as Huawei UK’s chairman. He will leave the company in September.