The news yesterday that at the end of this year there will be no more UK purchases of any Huawei equipment for our 5G system and that by 2027 all of the existing Huawei items will have been removed seemed like quite a quick U turn given that back on 5th February the Prime Minister made clear “that we are going to be reducing the involvement of Huawei below the 35% market cap, but he is also right in his general vision, which is one I entirely share. What has happened, I am afraid, is a failure of like-minded countries to produce an alternative to the 5G network except that provided by high-risk vendors.” In reality the decision which was announced yesterday has come more than 9 years after the first call by a Member of Parliament to limit the Huawei involvement. Sadly the work that could have taken place from 2011 would have moved us forward in a very different manner. The first person to have raised this publicly was in fact an ex-MP who had stood down in preparation for the 2010 General Election. Kim Howells had been the Labour Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee prior to the 2010 Election and in early 2011 he spoke about Huawei as was published in the Daily Mail on the 13th March.
Dr Kim Howells, the former chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, described the shared operation between BT and Huawei as ‘very worrying’. He said: ‘I would urge caution here because I know the intelligence agencies are very wary about sharing technology with the Chinese. ‘The truth is that no matter how a Chinese company presents itself it is never really separate from the state or free from Chinese government diktats. ‘It gives the Chinese a key component at the heart of British communications.’
The following day a Conservative MP, Robert Halfon who was not in the Chamber yesterday and so could not remind the Government of his previous contribution spoke during a brief discussion on the subject of Cyber Security and he said
Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by Dr Kim Howells, former Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, regarding the close links between BT and the Chinese telecoms firm, Huawei, which has close links to the red army? Does the Minister agree that that could make us more vulnerable to cyber-attack from China, and what steps can he take to reduce that risk?
The Minister at that time was Nick Harvey, the MOD Minister who was a Liberal Democratic MP and his response was
The recent Green Paper on equipment, support and technology identified cyberspace as both one of the benefits and one of the risks of the modern world. We are developing a joint approach with industry because of our mutual reliance on networks, which gives us the opportunity to discuss with BT and others both those benefits and the risks to which the hon. Gentleman alludes.
This was the first time that Huawei got a mention in the House of Commons or House of Lords and including Robert Halfon’s mention, up until this week it has been referred to a total of 184 times in Parliament. In the early months and years after Robert Halfon’s question there were numerous examples of MPs applauding the Huawei company and its benefit to our nation and in some case to their constituencies. There were three examples in 2011 and five in 2012 along with a question from Nicholas Soames a Sussex MP which was “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the appropriateness of operations in Britain of Huawei.” Whether he was being critical or supportive is of course impossible to know. The response was from Hugo Swire who was the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office. His response included this comment “For that reason, we have set up a unique joint venture with Huawei in 2010 where Government experts and Huawei staff collaborate to provide assurance that their products meet government security standards prior to being deployed on UK networks.” Then in 2013 the number of references increased to nine of which two were raising concerns and one came from David Cameron, the Prime Minister who stated
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) reported in June 2013 on foreign investment in critical national infrastructure. The ISC raised concerns about the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) and recommended that the National Security Adviser undertake “a substantive review of the effectiveness of HCSEC as a matter of urgency”. The Government responded in July to the ISC report, agreeing that a review would be carried out. This has now been completed and shared with the Chair of the ISC. An executive summary of the review has been published. Copies of this have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Government’s main conclusion, which reflects discussion with the Chairman of the ISC, is that oversight of HCSEC should be enhanced, and that GCHQ should take a leading and directing role in its future senior appointments.
In 2014 the number of comments dropped to five of which only one seemed to be raising concerns and in 2015 again there again five references of which only one was raising a concern which came in the House of Lords from Alan Sugar. Then in 2016 and 2017 there was only one reference each year both of which were neutral. Then in 2018 the number rose back to six and all of them contained some concerns and since then in the last 18 months there have been 148 references to Huawei and the majority appear to have been negative towards the Governments decisions such as the first one in 2019 from Gillian Keegan directed at the Home Office Minister, Sajid Javid
As the Minister might have seen, Oxford University recently suspended grants from telecoms firm Huawei due to security concerns. In the same week, Germany joined the growing number of our allies and intelligence partners by blocking the company from its 5G network. Will Britain take similar action?
Yet when Oliver Dowden was speaking yesterday his response to Chi Onwurah who is the Labour shadow Minister implied that it was a Labour problem. This seems to have ignored the questions raised by people like Robert Halfon, Nicholas Soames, Alan Sugar, Gillian Keegan and even stated very clearly by David Cameron all of which would suggest that this is not a matter than can be directed at Labour who have not been running the Government for the last 10 years. Sadly neither Robert Halfon or Gillian Keegan were speaking at the debate and so could not remind Oliver of their contributions 18 months or 9 years ago.
I must say however that I find it extraordinary that the hon. Lady spoke for several minutes but still has not said whether she supports the decision; will she be backing it, yes or no? She says that we were negligent, but I would gently remind the hon. Lady that it was the Labour Government that opened the door to Huawei in the first place; it is this Government who are closing it.
Perhaps what is even more concerning in one sense is that this claim which Oliver made seems in complete contrast to what Johnson said on 5th February
The first thing we need to do is ensure that we protect the other two vendors in this market, Nokia and Ericsson. Secondly, we need to get new suppliers in; that starts with Samsung and NEC. My hon. Friend Matt Warman, the Minister with responsibility for digital infrastructure, who is sitting next to me, has had constructive discussions with them, and we are now at the stage of having engagement at a technical level with their officials.
I know a significant number of people who work for all four of those companies and none of the companies are high risk vendors in any sense although given the size of Huawei, they are all probably smaller than Huawei currently is.