In January, the Government announced that Chinese firm Huawei would be allowed to supply much of the infrastructure equipment needed for the UK 5G network, despite security concerns. However, it designated it a "high risk vendor" and said it would cap the company's market share.
But on 15 May, US officials announced that sanctions were to placed on Huawei, which would mean they could not use US technology to manufacture their chips and would have to use third-party suppliers. The Trump administration claims that Huawei was used by the Chinese government to spy, which the company strongly denies.
Today, Oliver Dowden announced that, after the end of this year, UK telecoms operators will not be allowed to buy Huawei equipment and that existing Huawei infrastructure will be removed.
Oliver Dowden MP: "situation has changed"
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden told the House that the UK would only remain at the "forefront" of technology by developing "5G for mobile and gigabit-capable for fibre". However, he said it was important to have full belief "in the security and resilience of the infrastructure" of these technologies, which is why the Government carried out the telecoms supply chain review.
The Minister said that "the situation has changed" since January, citing the sanctions put in place by the US on 15 May. He explained that these restrictions would have "potentially severe impacts" on Huawei’s ability to supply new equipment to the UK, as they could not use US technology or software.
Mr Dowden stated that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had reviewed its security assessment of Huawei's actions in the UK in light of the USA's sanctions. The NCSC have now determined that the UK cannot be sure of being able to "guarantee the security of future 5G equipment ".
The Government agreed with this assessment and have determined that "telecoms operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei" after the end of the year. Mr Dowden told the House that will be illegal for them to do so after the Telecoms Security Bill is passed (the Bill will be introduced in October). He said that the UK had set a "diversification strategy" to identify alternative suppliers.
The Minister also announced that the UK will "commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment" from the 5G network by 2027. He said that in total, the roll-out of 5G will be delayed by two to three years and will add up to £2 billion to costs.
"The security and resilience of our telecoms networks is of paramount importance."
Chi Onwurah MP: "a car crash for our digital economy"
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow Minister Chi Onwurah said that is had been evident "for some time" that there were "serious questions" about Huawei's involvement in the UK's telecoms network. She said that Government had been "incomprehensibly negligent" in its approach to the situation.
Ms Onwurah said that the Government had refused to work with back benchers and the Opposition to legislate against high risk vendors and asked when that legislation would be brought forward. She asked the Minister to publish the advice that informed today's decision and questioned what conversations had been held with other ministers on "likely retaliation" from China.
She also wondered what other sectors were reliant on China for equipment, whether the US sanctions were a surprise since "in the past he has emphasised how closely he was working" with the country, if UK security policy is being led by the US and if Chinese human rights violations played any part in the decision.
The Shadow Minister went on to question what actions are laid out in the diversification strategy, if money will go to UK companies, and how the Minister will ensure the price of removing Huawei infrastructure would not fall on the public. She also asked what the implications are for the emergency services network, where BT was planning to use Huawei.
The Member/Minister of State said/told MPs/stated:
"The reality is that the original decision on Huawei was made because, over the past decade, this Government have failed to deliver a sustainable plan for our digital economy."