Government defeats Tory rebellion in Commons Huawei vote

Written by Sam Trendall on 11 March 2020 in News
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An amendment that would have guaranteed the removal of the Chinese vendor’s kit by 2023 was not passed

 

Credit: CROFT MALCOLM CROFT/PA Archive/PA Images

An attempt by rebel Conservative MPs to ensure Huawei kit is removed from the UK’s 5G infrastructure within two years was squashed by the government.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith yesterday tabled an amendment to the government’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill that stipulated that Huawei – and any other companies deemed to be “high-risk vendors” – would no longer be used in the 5G network from the beginning of 2023.

As it stands, Huawei will be allowed to supply technology for use in what the government characterises as the “periphery” of the next-generation network. Its technology will not be permitted to comprise more than 35% of this section of the infrastructure, and the percentage figure will be reviewed periodically and may be reduced “as the market diversifies”.


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The amendment voted on by MPs yesterday would have enshrined in legislation a commitment to bring the figure down to 0%, and a timeline for doing so. Duncan Smith’s introduction of the amendment was backed by 25 other Conservatives, including former Cabinet ministers David Davis and Damian Green. Other supporters included Tom Tugendhat, Damian Collins, Mark Francois, and Graham Brady.

When it was put to a vote, a total of 38 Tory MPs backed the amendment. This was enough to significantly narrow the government’s majority – but not enough for the amendment to pass. It was defeated by 306 votes to 282. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill has now completed its third reading in the Commons, and will presently move up to House of Lords for further debate.

Following yesterday’s vote, digital secretary Oliver Dowden sought to reassure the rebel MPs with a pledge to bring forward a separate “telecoms security bill” in the coming months. This legislation would address their fears over Huawei, he said.

“The concerns of [those who supported the amendment] have been clearly heard and understood,” Dowden said. “[They] can be dealt with in the telecoms security bill, but ahead of that, in recognition of those concerns, we already setting set out a pathway. First, we have made clear our intention to reduce our reliance on high-risk vendors as… diversification takes place.”

He added: “Further, we have said we want to get to the position where we do not have to use them at all, which gives a sense of the clear end point and trajectory. But we are saying that in order to get from point A to point B, we need to develop capacity, which is why we have said we will work with Five Eyes and other partners to develop this new supply-chain capacity in our critical national infrastructure.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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