Tories Rebel over Huawei: As ‘Ridiculous’ as Germany Working on UK Radar in 1939

A billboard advertising 4G, 5G and fibre mobile telecommunication is displayed at Waterloo Underground Station in London on January 28, 2020. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a strategic decision on Jnauary 28, 2020 on the participation of the controversial Chinese company Huawei in the UK's 5G …
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

A group of Conservative party grandees will seek to pass legislation to make Huawei involvement in British telecoms networks illegal, over fears the Chinese may use the equipment to spy on the United Kingdom.

Former Cabinet ministers including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, and Owen Paterson will submit an amendment to Boris Johnson’s Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill on Tuesday. It would seek to ensure that no equipment provided by companies deemed “high-risk vendors” by the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), are used in Britain’s communication networks from after December 31st, 2022.

Currently, BT, O2, EE, Vodafone, and Three are all using Huawei in the United Kingdom.

Tory rebels speaking to the Financial Times said that as many as 40 to 60 MPs could back them, which could be enough to defeat the vote on the government’s bill. Another said that, currently, the number is closer to an ineffectual 20.

While the rebel leaders represent the right-wing European Research Group (ERG) faction, there is also support from “centrist” so-called One Nation Tories such as Tom Tugendhat.

There is also opposition to Huawei from the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

According to The Guardian, an insider said the move is the first in a “guerilla” campaign to force Downing Street to rethink its decision. In January, Prime Minister Johnson announced that he would be giving the go-ahead to allow the Chinese firm to assist developing the British 5G network, against the security advice of Five Eyes security alliance partners Australia and the United States.

Assertions that Huawei would only be working on the “non-core” elements and be limited to 35 per cent of the work has not assuaged the concerns of British politicians and security specialists. Last month, Nigel Farage warned that Huawei involvement could threaten intelligence-sharing with allies, a future trade deal with the U.S., and even pose a risk to NATO.

MPs discussed Huawei’s involvement in 5G during a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, with Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, calling the decision to allow “effectively a state-owned corporation in the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party” access to Britain’s 5G network “ridiculous”, comparing it to coopering with Nazis on British radar development just before the war.

He said: “Imagine that in 1939 we had been developing our radar systems and decided to have one of the Nazi companies in Germany directly involved. Oh, but we reduced their involvement to 35 per cent, so they only controlled 35 per cent. I wonder how ridiculous that would have seemed.”

The Brexiteer Tory also said the figure of 35 per cent had been “plucked from thin air” and said that restricting the Chinese firm only to the peripheries “rests on the assumption that the core cannot be compromised from the edge. Most cyber experts whom I have spoken to know that this is an unsafe assumption, because they know that the whole 5G network can be attacked starting from the compromised edge, given the nature of change to the technological capability of the edge.”

“The UK Government have brushed aside the concerns of all our most important allies and the people we generally rely on. There is an overwhelming body of evidence indicating that Huawei is an untrusted vendor, which should not be given any further opportunity of access to our most vital communication networks,” he said.

There have also been concerns over reports of slavery in Huawei’s supply chain. Tory MP Bob Seely has asked BT, which owns EE, to investigate whether using Huawei contravenes the telecoms company’s anti-slavery policy, after the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) study — Uyghurs For Sale — alleged that third-party suppliers to Huawei (amongst other firms named in the report) are using the forced labour of China’s Muslim minority.

BT is said to be in discussions with Huawei over the report.

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