Johnson poised to give Huawei access to U.K. 5G networks

Alex Morales

Boris Johnson is poised to grant Huawei Technologies Co. a role in developing the U.K.’s fifth-generation telecommunications networks on Tuesday, saying British consumers should have access to “fantastic technology.”

The decision will be made on Tuesday following a meeting of the National Security Council, Digital Minister Matt Warman told the House of Commons on Monday. The U.S. government has lobbied for Britain to ban Huawei, saying its presence in 5G networks would threaten intelligence-sharing.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, lefts, controls a robot during a visit to the Department of Mathematics at King's Maths School, part of King's College London University, in London, Monday Jan. 27, 2020.

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, whose department is responsible for telecommunications, told Bloomberg earlier this month that Huawei will be kept out of “critical national infrastructure,” while leaving open the prospect the company can be involved in less sensitive areas. That message was backed up on Monday by Johnson, who said in a pooled media interview that the way forward is to ensure consumer benefits without putting security at risk.

“We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives and that’s the way forward,” Johnson said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the U.K. – allow consumers, businesses in the U.K. access to fantastic technology, fantastic communications – but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world.”

The Huawei decision is perilous for Johnson. If he sides with President Trump and bans the company, he risks failing to equip the U.K. with the technology Huawei is well placed to provide and betraying his pledge to voters to spread ultra-fast internet services across the country. If he allows Huawei to go ahead, he faces the potential loss of U.S. intelligence cooperation and an angry backlash from the White House at a time when he’s seeking a trade deal with Britain’s closest ally.

Digital minister Warman was keen to show that the government wants to reduce Britain’s reliance on the Chinese vendor.

“There are alternatives to Huawei, and we would of course seek to use them as much as possible,” he said, answering lawmakers’ questions on Monday. The government telecom supply chain review published in July said officials will pursue a diversification strategy to support the growth of new entrants.

With assistance from Thomas Seal.