LONDON • Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network in a landmark decision that will anger Beijing but win plaudits from US President Donald Trump as Washington grapples with China’s rising economic and technological clout.
The United States has pushed Mr Johnson to reverse his January decision to grant Huawei a limited role in 5G, while London has been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong and by the perception that China did not tell the whole truth about the coronavirus.
Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by Mr Johnson, will meet today to discuss Huawei. The immediate excuse for the change in policy is the impact of new US sanctions on chip technology, which London says affects Huawei’s ability to remain a reliable supplier.
It is unclear how far Mr Johnson will go. Telecommunications firms have already had to cap Huawei’s role in 5G at 35 per cent by 2023.
Reducing it to zero over an additional two to four years is now being discussed, although operators have warned that going too fast could delay key technology and disrupt services.
Asked about Huawei last month, Mr Johnson said he would protect critical infrastructure from “hostile state vendors”.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said yesterday that the “priority” would be national security.
The US says Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, is an agent of the Chinese government and cannot be trusted.
Huawei denies it spies for China and has said the US wants to frustrate its growth because no US company could offer the same technology at a competitive price.
Some have compared the US’ move to the Cold War antagonism with the Soviet Union, seeing that Washington is worried that 5G dominance is a milestone towards Chinese technological supremacy that could define the geopolitics of the 21st century.
Angering China just as Britain extracts itself from the European Union will put London firmly back on the side of its closest ally, the US.
China’s ambassador to Britain has said a U-turn on Huawei would damage Britain’s image and it would have to “bear the consequences” if it treated China as a hostile country.
Britain’s major telecoms networks have said they need at least five years, and ideally seven, to remove Huawei.
“If we get in a situation where things need to go very fast, then we go into a situation where service for 24 million BT Group mobile customers is put into question – outages would be possible,” BT chief executive Philip Jansen told BBC Radio yesterday.
Huawei has said the implications of the US sanctions are not yet clear, and it has urged Britain to wait before making a decision.