Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet senior ministers on Tuesday to decide whether to allow the use of equipment made by China's Huawei in Britain's future 5G mobile network. Johnson is under pressure from the United States to block Huawei because of concerns that access to the 5G network could be used by Beijing for espionage and would jeopardise intelligence sharing between Washington and London. Huawei, the world's biggest maker of mobile networking equipment, has denied the allegations.
Sources with knowledge of the matter said last week senior British officials had proposed granting Huawei a limited role in the 5G network, a "calculated compromise" which could be presented to Washington as a tough restriction but also accepted by British operators already using the company's equipment. Johnson said on Monday it was possible to keep up with new technology without compromising national security or relationships with important allies.
"We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives," he said in reply to a reporter's question about Huawei. 5G is seen as one of the biggest innovations since the birth of the internet a generation ago, offering consumers and businesses much faster data speeds. British intelligence officials have criticised Huawei for failing to address security flaws in its equipment, but say they have found no evidence of state espionage and believe they are able to successfully manage any risks posed by the firm.
"There's a disconnect between a political conversation and a technical one, which is making it very hard for the UK to move forward on this issue," said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute and an adviser to parliament's joint committee on national security strategy.
The debate over Huawei's role in 5G networks has split opinion in capitals across Europe, with politicians weighing the US-led arguments against lucrative trade ties with China. Former Prime Minister Theresa May agreed last year before leaving office to block Huawei from all core parts of the 5G network but to give it restricted access to non-core parts.