US sanctions on Huawei are likely to have a “significant impact” on the firm’s ability to play a role in the UK’s 5G network, the Culture Secretary has said.
Oliver Dowden said on Monday that he has received a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) report on the Chinese technology firm and will be discussing it with Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister has been under enduring pressure from his own backbenches to halt the company’s involvement over concerns that it presents a security risk.
Mr Dowden said the decision to permit Huawei limited access is not “fixed in stone”, meaning a major U-turn from the PM could be on the horizon.
Mr Dowden said the NCSC had reviewed the impact of the sanctions announced by the US in May in a bid by Donald Trump’s administration to cut the firm off from international semiconductor supplies.
“We believe that could have a significant impact on the reliability of Huawei equipment and whether we can use it safely,” the minister told Sky News.
“I’ve just received that advice, I’m working through it, the Prime Minister will do, and if it’s appropriate to change policy we’ll clearly make a statement in the House of Commons when we’ve been through that and reached a collective decision.”
Mr Dowden later said on LBC radio that he would aim to tell Parliament whether there is to be a policy change later this month, before MPs rise for the summer recess.
Mr Johnson’s move to allow Huawei a role set the Government at odds with the US, which had repeatedly warned against the firm amid clashes with China.
China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, sought to dismiss fears that Huawei’s involvement allows the Chinese state a backdoor access into mobile networks.
During an online press conference, he also accused some British politicians of regarding China as a “threat” or a “hostile country”.
“We want to be your friend, we want to be your partner, but if you want to make China a hostile country you have to bear the consequences,” he said.
Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said the consequences of the sanctions were as yet unclear.
“We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed US restrictions so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G. As ever, we remain open to discussions with the Government,” he said.
“We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position.”
Lord Mandelson, the Labour former minister who is bidding to become the World Trade Organisation’s director-general, said the sanctions had been a victory for the States.
“We have to understand this is fundamentally not a question of security, it’s a commercial war between the US and China,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“President Trump said he wanted to demolish Huawei and he’s doing so through very draconian sanctions, and we’re collateral damage in that.
“The Prime Minister would never have given the original go-ahead to the use of Huawei equipment if he was giving China a backdoor to our 5G network, but the point now is the agencies are being required by the Government to provide a cover for the change of position and they can do this because, operationally, Huawei has been disabled by the US sanctions, and that is a very heavy defeat by this Chinese company.”