Britain was expected to approve the phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network, a decision long sought by Washington but resisted by Beijing.

British telecoms operators must stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei by the end of the year.
British telecoms operators must stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei by the end of the year. (AFP Archive)

Britain has approved the costly phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network despite warnings of retaliation from Beijing.

The decision gives British telecoms operators until 2027 to remove Huawei equipment already in Britain's 5G network. The operators must stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei by the end of the year, delaying the rollout of the network.

Digital Minister Oliver Dowden's announcement on Tuesday followed a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of his cabinet and National Security Council.

The policy reversal hands a major victory to US President Donald Trump's administration in its geopolitical and trade battle with China.

But it threatens to further damage Britain's relations with the Asian power and carry a big cost for UK mobile providers that have relied on Huawei equipment for nearly 20 years.

"From the end of this year, telecoms providers must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei," Dowden told parliament.

He said the new guidelines also required all of Huawei's existing 5G gear to be stripped out "by 2027".

Dowden said the decision would delay the 5G rollout, and cost millions of pounds, but that it had to be done.

“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one,″ he said.

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'Disappointing decision'

Huawei called on the UK government to reconsider a ban on the purchase of its 5G equipment, saying London had reacted to pressure from Washington rather than security concerns.

The Chinese telecoms giant's UK spokesman Ed Brewster called the move "disappointing", adding: "Regrettably, our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy, not security."

Risk of outages

Johnson has been coming under growing political pressure to not only dump Huawei but also adopt a tough line with China for its treatment of Hong Kong and repression of ethnic Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.

But he also pledged to voters last year to bring broadband access to all Britons by 2025.

BT chief executive Philip Jansen said Monday that Britain could suffer "outages" and potential security risks if the sector was forced to stop dealing with the Chinese firm.

"If you were to try and not have Huawei at all (in 5G activities) ideally we'd want seven years and we could probably do it in five," he said.

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Huawei appears resigned to eventually losing the British market after fighting the decision for months.

Its executives reportedly wrote to Johnson's office requesting that Britain's ban on the installation of new Huawei equipment only take effect at the end of 2021.

Huawei also reportedly wants the deadline for all its gear to be stripped of Britain to take effect after June 2025.

Johnson's government originally allowed Huawei to roll out up to 35 percent of Britain's 5G network under the condition that it stays out of "core" elements dealing with personal data.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies