May defends Government’s approach to Huawei ahead of Pompeo talks

Theresa May has defended the UK’s approach to dealing with Chinese tech giant Huawei ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to raise Washington’s concerns.

Mr Pompeo is the first member of President Donald Trump’s administration to speak face to face with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt since last month’s National Security Council agreed to consider Huawai’s involvement in the UK’s 5G telecoms network.

Washington is urging allies to keep Huawei out of sensitive infrastructure programmes, citing fears that the company may provide a route for China’s communist regime to spy on the West.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May was warned by Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, that it would be “naive to the point of negligence” to give Huawei further access to the UK’s network.

But the Prime Minister insisted that she would do nothing to jeopardise the UK’s national security.

“We are taking a robust, risk-based approach that’s right for our UK market and network, and that addresses the UK national security needs,” she told MPs.

“The UK is not considering any options that would put our national security communications at risk, either within the UK or with our closest allies.

“No-one takes national security more seriously than I do … I think my record speaks for itself.”

Huawei stock
(Yui Mok/PA)

Mrs May reportedly gave the green light to the company bidding for work on “non-core” aspects of the hi-tech 5G network at the NSC meeting, overruling concerns from ministers including Gavin Williamson, who was later sacked as defence secretary over suspicions that he had leaked details of discussions.

Mr Pompeo warned earlier this year that the US will not “partner” with countries that adopt Huawei systems.

“We’ve made clear that, if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won’t be able to share that information any longer,” he said last month.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, one of the Cabinet’s most ardent supporters of links with Washington, insisted there was “much less of a difference” between the UK and US than some had claimed.

“When it comes to dealing with China, our analysis of the problems doesn’t vary much from the United States,” he said at a trade conference in London.

He insisted that no decision on Huawei had officially been taken by the Government and “we need to take into account the issues of an open trading system but we also have to ensure protection, particularly of our critical national infrastructure, and that we’ll do”.

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson was sacked as defence secretary after he was suspected of leaking details of National Security Council discussions (Joe Giddens/PA)

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Lewis highlighted a 2017 law requiring all Chinese citizens to co-operate with Beijing’s intelligence apparatus, suggesting that meant it would be “naive to the point of negligence to allow Huawei further to penetrate our critical national infrastructure”.

In an apparent reference to Mr Williamson, he added: “Shouldn’t we be grateful to all those ministers, present and former, who have opposed this reckless recommendation?”

In talks at 10 Downing Street, Mr Pompeo is also expected to step up US pressure on the UK to isolate Iran.

He made a surprise visit to Iraq immediately before his trip to London, assuring Baghdad that the US opposes other states “interfering in their country” and stands ready “to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation”.

Visited Iraq & met with PM @AdilAbdAlMahdi & Pres. @BarhamSalih to reinforce our friendship & to underline the need for Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities & Coalition personnel. U.S. & @Coalition troops are helping the Iraqi Security Forces ensure that ISIS remains defeated. pic.twitter.com/XTkY4APOpz

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 8, 2019

Mr Trump last year unilaterally pulled the US out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, but the UK and other European powers have refused to follow his lead.

Tensions have escalated in recent days as Washington deployed the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the Gulf.

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said the move sent “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interest or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force”.

Mr Pompeo’s visit comes as Iran warned it will resume uranium enrichment unless the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal – France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia – can show it is worth pursuing.

Companies from signatory nations have been wary of investing in Iran for fear of triggering US retaliation, leaving Tehran feeling that it has not reaped expected benefits from the deal in terms of access to finance and markets for its oil.

Former foreign minister Alistair Burt said the nuclear deal had “succeeded in its original purpose of lessening the risk of Iran moving towards a nuclear weapon”.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They are right to say that their part of the bargain, where they expected other benefits to flow, has not been met. But it’s not been through any deliberate fault of European partners.

“If companies are faced with the choice of continuing to trade with Iran or United States, if they have significant interests in the US that’s what they are going to do. It’s beyond the control of governments to change that.”

Mr Burt added: “The worrying aspect of this is that the Iranian response to American action increases the pressure in the region, increases the risk of accidental confrontation which could lead to something else.”

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