Officials from the United States have told their British counterparts that allowing Huawei access to the UK 5G networks would be “nothing short of madness”.
The warning came from a special delegation led by President Donald Trump’s deputy national security advisor, Matt Pottinger.
The delegation presented an incendiary dossier to British ministers, which they said featured new evidence of the security risks of relying on Huawei technology in future phone networks, the Guardian newspaper reported.
It came after Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, said at the weekend that he has “no reason” to think that the UK’s intelligence sharing arrangements with the US would be threatened if the UK allows the use of Huawei technology in 5G networks.
But the US officials have told British ministers that allowing the Chinese firm access would be “nothing short of madness”.
The US officials, who had flown in specially from the US, would not spell out what the “relatively recent information” that they had shared with their UK counterparts was, but it is understood to be of a technical nature, the Guardian reported.
The UK is expected to make a final decision this month about whether to include 5G equipment from the Chinese vendor. The US government has repeatedly warned against using any Huawei equipment on national security grounds.
Under Theresa May, the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) had in April 2019 had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the 5G network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.
Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to make a final decision about Huawei.
On the one hand he has been repeatedly advised by the UK’s security establishment that any security risks can be contained.
But the US has been threatening to reassess its intelligence sharing. Earlier this year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned US allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.
The five eyes relationship sees the United States, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand share intelligence information between them.
And now Boris Johnson has said that Huawei critics need to say what the alternatives are.
In his first interview of the new year with BBC Breakfast, Johnson was quoted as saying by the Guardian what the alternative to Huawei was.
“The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology,” the Prime Minister reported said. “We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”
“On the other hand, let’s be clear, I don’t want, as the UK prime minister, to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to cooperate with Five Eyes intelligence partners,” he added.
It should be noted that Huawei equipment is already in use in the UK’s existing 5G networks.
Indeed, three of the UK’s largest wireless providers (EE, Vodafone, and Three) are all using Huawei to build their 5G networks.
The only exception to this is O2, which has instead opted to use 5G equipment from Ericsson and Nokia.
So any decision to ban completely the Chinese firm will require the equipment to be retroactively removed from the 5G networks built so far by Vodafone, EE, and Three.
Do you know all about security? Try our quiz!