Based on a security reassessment, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has “sound technical reasons” to begin phasing out Huawei technology from Britain’s 5G networks, a former head of M16 said on Sunday per a Financial Times report.
According to the Telegraph, UK officials are currently working on proposals to halt installations of new Huawei equipment in as little as six months and ramping up removal efforts of existing hardware already put in place. This would be a drastically accelerated timeline compared to the one officials laid out in May, which gave the Chinese company until 2023 to reduce their involvement in Britain’s 5G networks to zero.
It would also mark an even more definitive about-face from the compromise officials made in January, wherein Johnson appeared to give Huawei the benefit of the doubt despite warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about potential national security risks. As part of that initial decision, Huawei was allowed a limited role in Britain’s 5G infrastructure, able to participate in no more than 35 per cent of the roll-out and only with approval from the country’s intelligence agencies.
Now, it appears Britain means to make a clean break. And soon.
“There are now sound technical reasons for the UK to change January’s decision,” Sir John Sawers, a former chief British intelligence officer, said per the Financial Times. “The security assessment is now different because the facts have changed.”
As a result of new U.S. sanctions imposed on Huawei, “reliable non-Chinese suppliers … can no longer work with the company,” and “UK intelligence services can therefore no longer provide the needed assurances that Chinese-made equipment is still safe to use in the UK’s telecoms network,” Sawers said.
According to a report from the UK Government Communications Headquarters, officials no longer believe that security risks posed by a partnership with Huawei can be safely managed, the Telegraph reported. These sanctions have had a “severe” impact on Huawei’s ability to safely roll out 5G networks, as the company can no longer use technology that relies on American intellectual property and therefore could be forced to adopt less secure substitutions.
The UK National Security Council is expected to confirm the decision within the next two weeks.
In a statement to the Guardian on Sunday, Huawei said the US sanctions were “not about security, but about market position” and that it’s trying to manage fallout from the decision “so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G.”
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“All our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the UK government has strict oversight,” the statement continued.
The Chinese company has been banned from purchasing tech made by U.S. companies since the Trump administration blacklisted it last year. U.S. intelligence officials have long asserted that Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus make it a national security risk to America’s networks. Last week, Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications company, were officially designated a threat to national security by the Federal Communications Commission.