US ambassador warns UK of Huawei 5G risk

Written by Kevin Schofield and Alain Tolhurst on 27 June 2019 in News

Woody Johnson compares the use of the vendor’s equipment to ‘letting a kleptomaniac into your house’

Credit: Christine Matthews/CC BY-SA 2.0

Giving Chinese tech firm Huawei a role in the development of the UK's 5G network would be like "letting a kleptomaniac move into your house", according to the US ambassador to Britain.

Woody Johnson warned Theresa May against allowing "untrustworthy countries in the heart of our economics and infrastructure".

The outgoing prime minister sparked a Cabinet row in April by confirming she wanted to give Huawei a "non-core" role in the rollout of the next phase of the UK's communications infrastructure.

It led to a backlash from senior ministers and ultimately resulted in the sacking of defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who was accused of leaking details of the move to the Daily Telegraph.

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Speaking at a Margaret Thatcher Conference run by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Johnson said awarding the contract to Huawei would be a big mistake.

He said: "This is something which we’ve discussed a lot and it’s very important. If you let untrustworthy countries in the heart of our economics and infrastructure, what could they do when inside them? I’ve always said it’s like letting a kleptomaniac move into your house.

"And then you’ve got to hire three people to follow them around all day and see how that works – it’s not a very good situation, maybe that’s unfair in some ways but I think it’s one way to look at it. These are big threats that we face and as countries of freedom and democracy we need to be strong and we need to be united."

Downing Street has insisted that no final decision on Huawei has been made.

But speaking to The House magazine last week, defence secretary Penny Mordaunt made clear her opposition to giving them any role in the 5G network.

She said: "Where it is clear that going with a particular supplier would make us vulnerable we should never compromise on that and I think that is absolutely a red line and I think we're on the same page as our allies on that. We need to put the ball back in their court in this. If you want to be a supplier, if you want your business to grow, if you want revenue to be created for your nation, then the decision's with you how you behave and whether you're going to operate in terms that other people would expect."


About the author

Kevin Schofield is editor and Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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