PM to meet US secretary of state as Huawei tensions simmer

Boris Johnson will meet with the US secretary of state as transatlantic tensions simmer over the decision to allow a Chinese tech giant to take part in Britain’s 5G roll-out.

Mike Pompeo will meet the Prime Minister in Downing Street after insisting Huawei presents a “real risk” to security.

The pointed comments came after Mr Johnson claimed allowing the Chinese company to be involved in the UK’s 5G network would not damage transatlantic security co-operation.

As he travelled to the UK, Mr Pompeo called the communications firm “an extension of the Chinese Communist Party” and said Washington would “evaluate” the UK’s decision.

The Chinese tech giant has always rejected claims it represents a security risk.

But speaking to reporters en route to the UK, Mr Pompeo said: “Our view of Huawei has been that putting it in your system creates real risk.

“This is an extension of the Chinese Communist Party with a legal requirement to hand over information to the Chinese Communist Party.”

He added that “American information only should pass through trusted networks, and we’ll make sure we do that”, while also suggesting the UK could “re-look” at the decision in the future.

After Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Mr Pompeo on Wednesday evening, a brief Foreign Office statement did not reference the Huawei controversy.

A spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary’s discussions with Secretary Pompeo this evening focused on future opportunities for economic and security co-operation between the UK and US.

“The pair discussed the US’ proposal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the situation in Iran and Yemen, and the Foreign Secretary underlined the need to de-escalate regional tensions.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there will be no risks from allowing Huawei a limited role in the UK’s 5G roll-out (House of Commons/PA)

The Prime Minister said allowing Huawei to play a limited role in the UK’s 5G infrastructure would not “imperil our relationship” with Donald Trump’s administration as he faced a backlash from both Tory MPs and US Republicans.

The Prime Minister defied the US president by giving the green light to the Chinese firm despite US warnings that it could hamper intelligence-sharing with Washington and the other members of the Five Eyes alliance.

Mr Johnson, who spoke to Mr Trump on Tuesday, said the Government’s decision would not damage the “extremely valuable” security co-operation with the Five Eyes alliance which includes the US.

Answering questions from the public on Facebook he said he had “interrogated” the security and intelligence agencies about the issue and whether Huawei could be allowed to play a role while preventing “any kind of risk of leaks or interference with our security”.

“There is no doubt in their mind that we can do it and we can allow Huawei into some aspects of 5G but not compromise our intelligence-sharing ability with America, Australia, Canada or New Zealand – the so-called Five Eyes.

“I’m very confident we can do that.”

The decision has caused deep unease on the Tory benches, with discussion of a possible rebellion when the matter comes to the Commons, although the Prime Minister can normally rely on a comfortable majority.

Government assurances about the decision have done little to quell what Damian Green, former de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, called “widespread (and) strong unease” on the Tory benches.

Damian Green
Damian Green, the former de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, has said there is widespread unease over Huawei (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Senior Tory MPs including former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Brexit secretary David Davis are among those to express displeasure.

The European Union also unveiled security guidelines for the next generation high-speed wireless networks that stop short of banning Huawei, in a further blow to the US campaign against the firm.

Mr Pompeo’s two-day visit is likely to offer the first real indication of the extent of any damage to the so-called special relationship.

The US administration has consistently argued that giving Huawei a role in 5G could allow the Chinese a “back door” into the telecoms network through which they could carry out espionage or cyber attacks.

The Government has acknowledged Huawei is not a “trusted” supplier but argues that by banning it from the most sensitive elements of the network and restricting its involvement to 35%, it can manage the risks.

The clash comes at a sensitive moment in US-UK relations, just as Mr Johnson is hoping to make rapid progress on a trade deal.

Mr Raab will attend a discussion with Mr Pompeo before the US secretary of state meets the PM on Thursday.

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