January 14, 2020 2:15:36 PM
Boris Johnson said he would not risk Britain’s security when upgrading the nation’s 5G communications network – but said critics of Chinese technology firm Huawei must come up with an “alternative” provider.
In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said he did not want to “prejudice” the country’s ability to share intelligence with allies in the so-called Five Eyes arrangement – a collaboration between the UK, Australia, US, Canada and New Zealand – as a result of the improvements he had promised voters in his election manifesto.
It was reported on Tuesday that Washington had stepped-up efforts to try and prevent Downing Street from backing Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s switch over to 5G.
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was leader when the country ruled out using Huawei for its 5G rollout, warned the UK could be “vulnerable” if it commissioned the Chinese firm.
A decision on which 5G vendor to use is due to be made by the Government this month.
The upgrade from 4G to 5G will revolutionise mobile internet capabilities, with consumers able to download a two-hour film in less than four seconds – between 10 to 20 times faster than on the 4G network.
But senior US officials, according to the Financial Times, presented the British Government with information on Monday to persuade it not to allow the tech giants to get a lucrative foothold in the UK market.
Asked about the reports in an interview with BBC Breakfast, Mr Johnson said: “The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology.
“I have talked about infrastructure and technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody.
“Now, if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us which is the alternative.
“On the other hand, let’s be clear, I don’t, as the UK Prime Minister, want to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with Five Eyes intelligence.”
The FT said there were growing expectations that Mr Johnson would decide in favour of allowing the use of Huawei equipment in some “non-core” parts of the network.
But Mr Turnbull said the “virtualised” nature of 5G technology made it impossible to separate the core and non-core elements of the network, giving large oversight to Huawei.
The ex-Liberal Party leader said Huawei could be forced by law to hand over information about the UK’s communications set-up by China’s communist government, making Britain and its millions of mobile internet users “very vulnerable”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “A threat is the combination of capability and intent. Intent can change in a heartbeat, capability takes a long time to put into place.
“Do you want to give China the capability to materially interfere with what will become one of the most fundamental technological platforms in the modern economy?”
Responding to Mr Johnson’s call for alternative providers to be put forward, Mr Turnbull said Nokia and Ericsson, two European companies, could be used but admitted there were “not as many as I’d like”.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Stephenson told MPs that a final decision will be “taken in due course”.
“The Government will consider the full range of risks when making this decision,” he added.
Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei, said the words of Sir Andrew Park, head of the MI5, should assure anxious MPs.
“We are confident that the UK Government will make a decision based upon evidence, as opposed to unsubstantiated allegations,” he said.
“Two UK parliamentary committees concluded there is no technical reason to ban us from supplying 5G equipment, and this week the head of MI5 said there is ‘no reason to think’ the UK’s intelligence-sharing relationship with the US would be harmed if Britain continued to use Huawei technology.”