Senior Conservative MPs will try to pass a law next week to ensure that the UK’s telecoms networks, including 5G mobile phone infrastructure, do not contain any Huawei equipment after 2022.
The move comes after Boris Johnson in January decided to grant the Chinese telecoms equipment maker a limited role in supplying kit for the UK’s 5G networks, although it proposed confining Huawei’s market share to 35 per cent.
Some Conservative MPs fear that allowing Huawei any role in critical UK infrastructure will compromise national security — echoing US concerns that Beijing could be using the Chinese company’s equipment to spy on other countries.
A group of Tory grandees — including former cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Owen Paterson and David Davis — will on Tuesday seek to pass a law focused on Huawei by trying to amend the government’s telecoms infrastructure bill.
Two MPs involved in putting forward the amendment said the aim was to ensure that no Huawei equipment was used in UK telecoms networks by the end of 2022.
The amendment states that telecoms network operators should not, after December 31 2022, use any equipment supplied by companies deemed to be “high risk vendors” by the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of the signals intelligence agency GCHQ.
The timetable set out in the amendment risks being onerous for operators. BT has used Huawei equipment in its fixed line networks, including high speed broadband infrastructure.
The UK’s four mobile network operators — EE, O2, Three and Vodafone — have all launched 5G services using Huawei kit.
The rebel Tories opposed to Huawei are unsure how many MPs will support their amendment, but one claimed as many as 40 Conservatives could back them — which could be sufficient to inflict a defeat on the government during House of Commons votes on the telecoms infrastructure bill. Another predicted up to 60 Tory MPs could support the amendment, but one prominent rebel said the number was currently nearer 20.
Some of the rebel Conservatives opposed to Huawei spoke in a debate in parliament’s Westminster hall on Wednesday, warning the government had made a mistake and that it was essential to exclude Huawei from the UK market as soon as possible.
Sir Iain told MPs: “We’re in a mess and the only way to get out of that mess is to ensure that Huawei reduces from its present position, not to 35 per cent that the government wants, but simply down to zero per cent.”
One senior Tory MP opposed to Huawei claimed that Downing Street had offered private assurances to some Conservatives about a “pledge of zero involvement”, but had yet to receive confirmation from ministers.
Downing Street declined to comment on the rebel Tories’ amendment, but referred to past comments that “market failure” was responsible for the lack of alternative vendors to Huawei.
Huawei also declined to comment. Huawei has repeatedly said it is a private company and not subject to Chinese state interference.
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