The new prime minister must take a decision on whether to include China’s Huawei in Britain’s 5G telecoms network urgently as the ongoing debate is damaging international relations, a powerful committee of UK lawmakers said on Friday.
Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, met to discuss Huawei in April and a decision was made to block the telecoms giant from all critical parts of the 5G network but to give it restricted access to less sensitive parts.
However, the United States has told allies not to use Huawei’s technology as it fears the company could be used by Beijing for spying operations. Conversely, China has warned Britain that excluding the firm could hurt investment and trade.
The final decision on Huawei was already supposed to have been taken by the British government but May’s decision to step down has stalled the process. Her replacement, either foreign minister Jeremy Hunt or former London mayor Boris Johnson who is the frontrunner, will be installed next week.
“The new prime minister must take a decision as a matter of priority,” said Dominic Grieve, chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
In a statement, the ISC said Britain’s cyber security chiefs had been clear that the issue was not about one country or company, but that the system had to be able to withstand any attack, malicious action or simple human error.
It said this was best achieved by diversifying suppliers and the issue at the moment for 5G was that there were only three firms in the running - Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. Over-dependence and less competition resulted in lower security standards, it said.
“Therefore including a third company - even if you may have some security concerns about them and will have to set a higher bar for security measures within the system - will, counter-intuitively, result in higher overall security,” the ISC said.
However, the committee acknowledged that the decision was not just technical and that the government had to take into account political concerns and so should not do anything to jeopardise the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
It argued that China would understand if Huawei were excluded as Beijing would not allow a British company to play a role in its critical national infrastructure.
“Such an important decision therefore requires careful consideration,” the ISC statement said. “However, the extent of the delay is now causing damage to our international relationships: a decision must be made as a matter of urgency.”