Home / Economics / US sanctions ‘likely’ to hit Huawei’s 5G position in UK, says minister

US sanctions ‘likely’ to hit Huawei’s 5G position in UK, says minister

US sanctions targeting Huawei are “likely” to hit the Chinese telecoms equipment maker’s ability to supply 5G mobile phone networks in the UK, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said on Tuesday.

The statement by Mr Dowden comes as the British government is weighing whether to reverse its January decision to allow Huawei a limited role as a supplier of 5G networks.

Boris Johnson appeared to pave the way for a U-turn on Huawei on Tuesday after pressure from rebel Conservative MPs and the US government to drop the company amid claims it gives Beijing a means to spy on UK communications.

“I am not a Sinophobe, I won’t be drawn into Sinophobia,” the prime minister told reporters. “But we need to strike a balance to protect critical infrastructure from hostile vendors.”

The government moved to reopen its decision to give Huawei a role in providing 5G networks after the US in May introduced new export controls aimed at cutting Huawei off from access to semiconductors made with American equipment. 

Officials at the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency, began an emergency review into the impact of the US sanctions on Huawei’s supply chain.

A report by the NCSC has now been passed to ministers, including Mr Dowden, who are evaluating the government’s response.

“We have, since the middle of May, had the US sanctions in respect of Huawei, so clearly given that those sanctions are targeted at 5G . . . it is likely to have an impact on the viability of Huawei as a provider for the 5G network,” Mr Dowden told the House of Commons defence select committee on Tuesday.

UK officials have previously told the Financial Times that the US sanctions represented a “material change” in Huawei’s risk profile, partly because it would be harder for Britain to vet any Chinese-made semiconductors used by the company.

Asked by MPs whether it was a case of “not if but when” the UK would remove all high-risk vendors, including Huawei, from its telecoms networks, Mr Dowden appeared to agree.

“But there is a big difference as to the path to getting to that point,” he said.

When Mr Johnson authorised a limited supplier role for Huawei in the UK’s 5G networks, he excluded the Chinese company from the sensitive “core” of the infrastructure and capped its market share at 35 per cent.

Mr Dowden admitted these restrictions had caused a year’s delay in the rollout of the networks.

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