Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived his first Commons rebellion, with a number of senior MPs supporting an amendment that would have seen Huawei banned from supplying UK operators with 5G equipment.
The amendment would have blocked Huawei’s participation from 2023 if it had been passed, however the government defeated the bill by 24 votes.
The mutineers, led by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, were concerned that Huawei equipment posed a threat to national security – a sentiment backed wholeheartedly by the US, which has repeatedly advised its allies to follow its lead in banning the Chinese firm.
The UK government announced in January it would allow Huawei to contribute to Britain’s 5G rollout, but barred the manufacturer’s equipment from sensitive parts of the network.
Under this guidance, “high-risk” vendors are excluded from the core layer of 5G networks and from networks used to power critical national infrastructure. Such vendors are also limited to 35 per cent of the radio layer.
The long-awaited decision was designed to offer clarity to mobile operators embarking on nationwide 5G projects, and appease the US with the imposition of some restrictions.
Huawei has welcomed the result of the vote, once again denying any allegations of wrongdoing.
“We were reassured by the UK government’s decision in January that we could continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” said Victor Zhang, VP at Huawei. It was an evidence-based decision that will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure.
“The government has examined the evidence and concluded that Huawei should not be banned on cyber security grounds and two parliamentary committees have done the same and agreed. An evidence-based approach is needed, so we were disappointed to hear some groundless accusations asserted. The industry and experts agree that banning Huawei equipment would leave Britain less secure, less productive and less innovative.”
Huawei 5G dilemma
Prior to the vote, the government made a last ditch effort to convince the dissenters Huawei’s proposed role in the project does not pose a threat to national security, bringing in Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director at the National Cyber Security Centre, to allay fears.
And in a statement delivered to TechRadar Pro, Huawei UK Advisor and former Chairman of BT group Sir Mike Rake highlighted the potential consequences of a 5G setback.
“We are fortunate in this country to have in GCHQ one of the best intelligence gathering agencies in the world. They are clear that this risk can be managed with the safeguards and limits which have been established.”
“Any attempt to further restrict Huawei 5G equipment, or to remove existing 4G equipment will not only incur very significant costs, but prejudice trade relationships with China and will significantly set back the Government’s broadband ambitions.”
“This in turn will further damage our competitiveness as an economy, at what is a critical moment,” he added.
Culture Secretary Matt Warman said the revolt had highlighted dissenters’ concerns, while Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said the government wanted to get to a point where it no longer relied on high-risk vendors in the near future.