The United Kingdom may not have made a final decision as to whether to allow Huawei to play a restricted role in building this country’s 5G networks.
This is at least according to US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, speaking on Thursday.
In April it was reported in a British newspaper that the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.
That decision angered the UK’s closest ally, who had warned that Washington did not see a difference between core and non-core parts of a 5G network.
The leaking of the NSC decision to a British newspaper triggered an internal inquiry, and resulted in the sacking of UK’s then defence secretary Gavin Williamson, after the investigation pointed to him as being the guilty party for the leak.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has previously warned allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.
A US cyber security official also added that America would reassess sharing information with any allies which use equipment made by China’s Huawei.
And although the British NSC had decided to allow Huawei to build non-core aspects on the 5G network, a final decision was expected to be taken by the British cabinet of senior ministers in the past few weeks.
It is reported however that due to the decision of Prime Minister Theresa May to step down on 7 June, this decision has been stalled, sources told Reuters.
The Prime Minister is only expected to actually leave office by the end of July.
When John Bolton, America’s combative national security advisor was asked if the United States would like the next British leader to take a tougher stance on Huawei, Bolton said discussions with London were continuing but that Trump would probably raise it when he visits next week.
“I’m not sure that this decision has reached the prime ministerial level in final form. I mean we are still talking,” Bolton told reporters in London. “People are talking back and forth.”
“Everybody is catching up to the dangers posed, especially in 5th-generation telecommunications systems, by equipment from Huawei and potentially others that can allow foreign governments a back door into telecommunications systems,” he said.
When the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the UK last month, he warned the UK not to ‘go wobbly’ over 5G security – paraphrasing what Margaret Thatcher once famously told late US President George H.W. Bush.
“Now is not the time for either of us to go wobbly,” Pompeo was quoted as saying in a speech about the so-called special relationship.
“In China, we face a new kind of challenge; an authoritarian regime that’s integrated economically into the West in ways that the Soviet Union never was,” Pompeo said at the time.
“Ask yourself: would the Iron Lady be silent when China violates the sovereignty of nations through corruption or coercion? Would she allow China to control the internet of the future?” Pompeo said.
The UK meanwhile is expected to announce the findings of a review into 5G suppliers to parliament once the work has been completed, but the PM’s looming departure has apparently slowed the process.
Bolton said the issue of Huawei and 5G came down to a risk assessment but he repeated the fundamental view of the United States that the division between core and non core is less clear when it comes to 5G networks.
“5G really is not so easily divisible into core elements and peripheral elements,” Bolton said.
“How much risk are you prepared to accept that a foreign power is reading your mail all the time at their will?” Bolton reportedly asked. “When it comes to our government systems, the United States has said zero is the level of risk we will accept.”
The United Kingdom is part of the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing network, made up of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. All have pledged not use technology from Huawei in its most sensitive networks.
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