- The UK will remove Huawei from its 5G network by 2027, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government announced Tuesday.
- UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the decision was due to major sanctions imposed on the Chinese firm by the US government.
- The decision will delay the rollout of 5G across the UK by at least two years and cost hundreds of millions of pounds, Dowden said.
- The UK had previously ignored warnings from the Trump administration against agreeing to a 5G deal with Huawei.
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The UK will remove Huawei equipment from its 5G network by 2027, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government announced Tuesday.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons that the UK would impose a ban on the purchase of all new 5G infrastructure from Huawei by December 31, with all existing equipment removed by 2027.
Dowden said the UK “can no longer guarantee the safety” of the deal with Huawei and said recent US sanctions on the Chinese firm represented “a significant material change” that meant the UK had to change course.
Johnson’s government earlier this year ignored US warnings against agreeing to hand Huawei a “limited” role in setting up the UK’s 5G network.
Johnson’s official spokesman on Tuesday, however, said sanctions imposed on Huawei this year by the Trump administration were a “game changer” that meant the UK had no choice but to change course.
“5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built upon,” Dowden said Tuesday.
“Following US sanctions against Huawei and updated technical advice from our cyber experts, the government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks.
“No new kit is to be added from January 2021, and UK 5G networks will be Huawei free by the end of 2027. This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK.
“By the time of the next election we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks.”
The government says it has no plans to remove the company from 2G, 3G, 4G, or its broadband network.
The decision will delay the rollout of 5G across the UK by at least two years, Dowden told members of Parliament, while creating additional costs of up to £2 billion, or $US2.5 billion.
“This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone,” Huawei’s UK representative Ed Brewster said in a statement sent to Business Insider.
“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills, and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down, and we urge them to reconsider.
“We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”
Dowden, the UK secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, announced the decision Tuesday afternoon after Johnson chaired meetings with his Cabinet the UK’s National Security Council in the morning.
The UK government announcement came just a couple of hours after Huawei announced that its UK chairman, Lord Browne, was stepping down from his role earlier than expected.
Johnson has in recent weeks been under growing pressure to undo his decision earlier this year to grant Huawei a limited but significant role in developing the UK’s 5G.
The prime minister riled MPs in his own Conservative party when he struck a deal with Huawei.
In March, he suffered a rebellion from Conservative MPs – and the first real challenge to his power since winning the UK’s general election in December – when almost 40 voted against his government in Parliament.
Opposition to the deal with Huawei has grown since then, amid fury over China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its recent decision to defy the UK and others and impose national security laws on Hong Kong.
Backbench Conservative MPs have set up parliamentary bloc called The China Research Group that is calling for the UK government to loosen ties with Beijing.
The government’s announcement on Tuesday could yet face further resistance from Conservative MPs, however.
Those leading calls for the Huawei deal to be scrapped have this month warned that the firm should be removed from UK networks in 2023, before the UK’s next general election.
About 60 Conservative MPs are reportedly threatening to complicate Johnson’s legislative agenda by attaching amendments to multiple pieces of legislation until he agrees to accelerate the removal of Huawei.
The US had previously urged the UK to cut ties with Huawei, warning that a deal with the company would give China a back door into Western intelligence sharing. The issue was a point of contention, with President Donald Trump once said to have hung up on Johnson in an “apoplectic” phone call.
The US sanctions that apparently played a big part in the UK decision to phase out the firm are designed to stop Huawei from using US-produced equipment to make semiconductors, creating concern in London that the firm would use different technology with an additional security risk.
John Sawers, the former head of MI6, last week boosted Conservative MPs calling for the deal to be binned when he wrote that US sanctions meant Johnson’s government would have to exclude the telecoms firm from UK networks.