Boris Johnson paved the way for a U-turn over Huawei today amid a mounting Tory revolt.
The Prime Minister insisted the UK needs to protect critical national infrastructure from “hostile state vendors” when deciding what role the Chinese tech firm should play in Britain’s 5G network.
Less than six months ago, he gave the green light for the company to help build the system.
But the Government is carrying out a review into the impact of allowing Huawei equipment to be used in networks after the US slapped fresh sanctions on the Chinese company, citing security fears.
Stung by a backbench revolt and amid fresh warnings from the White House, Mr Johnson left the door open to reversing his decision.
Speaking in Dudley, West Mids, the PM said: “On Huawei, the position is very, very simple – I do want to see our critical national infrastructure properly protected from hostile state vendors, so we need to strike that balance and that’s what we’ll do.”
But he added: “I’m not going to get drawn into Sinophobia because I’m not a Sinophobe.”
Huawei, considered a “high risk vendor” by Britain, was granted a limited role in building the country’s 5G networks in January, after the Government said it could manage the risks.
The decision dismayed the United States, which has said Beijing could use Huawei’s telecoms equipment to spy.
Huawei insists it has never handed over information and nor would it do so.
Since January, the Covid-19 crisis and a row with China over a security crackdown in Hong Kong has damaged relations between Beijing and London.
MPs on a sub-committee of the Commons Defence Committee today grilled Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and National Cyber Security Centre chief executive Ciaran Martin over plans to let Huawei help build the infrastructure.
Mr Dowden admitted American sanctions – which would impose stricter export controls on any foreign chip manufacturer aiming to sell semiconductors to Huawei using US-made equipment – could hamper the plan.
He said: “Given there is the fact of these sanctions on Huawei, that is a very relevant factor in terms of reliability of their equipment, which is why we have asked the NCSC to provide that analysis and see what the policy consequences are of that.”
Committee chairman, former Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, said: “We must have a reset, a review of our relationship with China.”
He added: “I hear the arguments to say, ‘Yes we have to work with China’.
“But in our lifetimes, they are going to become more powerful – economically, technologically and militarily – than the United States.
“The question for us all right now is where does it all go? When are we willing to stand up and say, ‘The trajectory here is leading us to a Cold War’? “We are seeing a country now taking off the gloves.”