By Guy Faulconbridge and Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would make a decision on Huawei’s role in Britain’s future 5G network that would give Britons the benefits of the new technology without compromising national security.
Johnson is due to meet senior government ministers on Tuesday to decide whether to ban or restrict the use of equipment made by Huawei [HWT.UL] in the 5G network.
He faces pressure from Washington – and some members of his ruling Conservative Party – not to give Huawei any role because of fears the Chinese company would gain access to British secrets. Huawei denies it is a vehicle for Chinese intelligence.
Johnson said there was a way for British consumers and businesses to have access to the new technology without compromising security relationships with the U.S.-led Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the UK, allow consumers, businesses in the UK to have access to fantastic technology, to fantastic communications but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world,” Johnson said in reply to a reporter’s question about Huawei during a visit to a London university.
“So the Five Eyes security relationships we have, we have got to keep them strong and safe,” he said. “We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives.”
Reuters cited two people with knowledge of the matter last week as saying British officials had proposed granting Huawei a limited role in the 5G network.
5G is seen as one of the biggest innovations since the birth of the internet a generation ago, offering much faster data speeds.
Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, says the United States wants it blocked from Britain’s 5G network because no U.S. company can offer the same range of 5G technology at a competitive price.
“FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE”
Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative former head of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, compared giving Huawei access to Britain’s 5G network to “nesting that dragon” and “allowing the fox into the hen house when really we should be guarding the wire”.
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.
Opponents of Huawei, including the United States, say the division between core and non-core is less clear when it comes to 5G networks.
Britain welcomes foreign investment but needs assurances that national security will not be compromised, Matt Warman, the minister for digital and broadband, told parliament.
“We welcome open trade and inward investment. However, our economy can only prosper and unleash Britain’s potential when we and our international partners are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure,” he said.
Warman said the National Security Council, the main forum for discussion of national security, would meet on Tuesday to discuss Huawei.
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton and Elizabeth Howcroft; editing by Michael Holden, Coastas Pitas and Timothy Heritage)