UK.gov tells rebel MPs to go Huawei – but 5G Telecoms Security Bill was the price

Narrow House of Commons victory sees fresh wave of counter-Chinese comms pledges

MPs have narrowly voted down a Parliamentary amendment that would have banned Huawei altogether from the UK's 5G networks.

The amendment, tabled by a number of rebel Conservative MPs from prime minister Boris Johnson's ruling party, was narrowly defeated by 306 votes to 282 – a majority of 24. The Conservatives currently hold a Parliamentary majority of 80.

Led by Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis, the rebel amendment to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill would have banned mobile operators from buying equipment from any vendor labelled by the National Cyber Security Centre as "high risk".

The political winds have changed direction for Huawei. Only a few weeks ago the government committed itself to capping the Chinese firm's involvement in the non-core parts of British 5G networks at 30 per cent; now it is fighting off a growing backbench rebellion to cut it out altogether after comments from newbie Minister of Fun* Oliver Dowden last week suggested UK.gov itself wants Huawei involvement in 5G slashed to zero.

The US will doubtless be rubbing its hands with glee – if not soap, given the current COVID-19 coronavirus spread.

After the amendment was voted down, digital minister Matt Warman got up to declare: "This is a vital bill that is critical to the success of our digital economy in the days ahead. I'd like to thank my colleagues from across the house for providing the scrutiny they have provided today."

Replying, Labour's shadow digital economy minister Chi Onwurah said: "Until we see a detailed plan, an industrial strategy investment for all the different components of that, I'm afraid on this side of the House we will remain concerned the government is not prepared to make the interventions necessary to ensure our national security is safeguarded."

A Telecoms Security Bill is now set to appear at some point before the summer holidays after a back-footed Dowden promised the government would produce one, in an effort to soothe his party's angry backbenchers.

Mobile operators don't really care for security-based arguments: Huawei currently offers some of the cheapest network equipment on the 5G market.

Only this morning Huawei's mouthpieces beamed a letter to the British press from Sir Mike Rake, formerly chairman of BT and now a paid Huawei advisor. In the letter, Rake declared that Britain's progress on 5G "could not have been achieved without using Huawei, who were the first to make reliable equipment available at an economic price".

Yesterday Parliament's Defence Select Committee declared amid a fanfare of weary sighs that it would be opening its own inquiry into Huawei and 5G security. ®

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