A senior Cabinet minister has insisted the UK will make its own decision on whether to give Huawei a role in building Britain’s 5G network amid increasing pressure from the US to exclude the firm.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the UK will ‘take into account the views of other sovereign states’ but insisted ultimately the ‘decision we make will be based upon our own sovereign right to choose’.
His comments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the UK faced a ‘momentous decision’ on whether to allow the Chinese tech giant to help build the crucial infrastructure.
Mr Pompeo is due to visit London on Wednesday for talks with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
But his visit could be too late to influence the Huawei decision with the National Security Council due to meet tomorrow to potentially make a final ruling on the matter.
The US administration has urged allies to ban Huawei from their infrastructure, claiming it would be a security risk – something the company vehemently denies.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, this morning warned it would be unwise for the UK to be ‘technologically dependent’ on another country while former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt also raised concerns amid a rising Tory backlash on the issue.
Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary pictured in Downing Street on January 21, said the UK had a ‘sovereign right to choose’ whether to allow Huawei to help build the country’s 5G network
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit the UK for talks on Wednesday with Huawei likely to dominate discussions
Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: ‘The British cabinet has to act in the interest of the United Kingdom first and foremost, of course it will take into account the views of other sovereign states.
‘But as a sovereign state that has to place at the heart of its decision-making national security but also the wider interests of the country, namely the development of broadband, then we’ve got to make a decision calmly and dispassionately on the evidence.’
Mr Pompeo tweeted last night in support of an article written by Tory MP Tom Tugendhat which suggested allowing Huawei into the 5G network could harm British sovereignty.
He said: ‘The UK has a momentous decision ahead on 5G. British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: “The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign.”’
But Mr Buckland appeared to dismiss US concerns as he said it will be ‘Britain that will have to live with the consequences’ of whatever decision it makes.
‘All of us have to take that calculation in terms of our own national interest, that’s what we’re going to do,’ he said.
‘The decision we make will be based upon our own sovereign right to choose. It’s Britain that will have to live with the consequences of that.
‘There are risks but we will make an informed decision based on the evidence and we will do so in an autonomous way.’
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt cautioned against involving Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G network.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I must admit I always wondered whether it was wise to allow ourselves to become technologically dependent on another country, whichever country, for something as critical as 5G technology.
‘That is my view, but I would say if the decision goes the other way this week, as some of the signs seem to indicate it might, I hope there will also be some reflection in the US because we have never needed the Western alliance to be stronger than now.’
There are growing concerns in Washington that the potential involvement of Huawei in the UK’s network could harm intelligence sharing with Britain and cause lasting damage to the ‘special relationship’.
Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, questioned whether it would be wise to involve Huawei in the UK’s 5G network
Mr Hunt said he does ‘accept the word of our intelligence community’, with officials of the belief that Huawei can be safely involved in building the network.
But the former Tory leadership challenger added: ‘But I think the issue is what happens if we get to the situation where no Western companies that are really able to compete with Huawei going forward and, like it or not, in a decade’s time people will look back and say “was this really wise to take this decision in 2020 that has led to this dependency?”‘
Ms Mordaunt said the government needed to consider more than just the security implications of allowing Huawei a role.
She said: ‘Media reports about Huawei have focused on how we can limit it to the non-core. That’s not the only issue Ministers need to focus on.
‘Do we value protection of IP and ideas? Do we care how a company treats its workers?
‘Do we value democracy & the good stewardship of capital? What are the standards, values and reliability we want from any company our national infrastructure depends upon?
‘Finally, what’s the alternative – the detail of what we’d need to do, with others, if we said no.’