TO reprise the Huawei scandal: in April Theresa May’s administration approved the Chinese tech giant as a vendor in Britain’s 5G (fifth generation wireless network),
- While being lobbied by members of the preceding administration who either work for Huawei or for Chinese investment funds, including David Cameron;
- With the internal, unaccountable support of unelected and unqualified civil servants, as part of a wider agenda to pivot against the US in favour of the EU and eastern powers;
- In a secret session of the National Security Council rather than the whole Cabinet, against the advice of half the members, especially Gavin Williamson (then Defence Secretary), who was accused – by those same civil servants, without due evidence – of leaking the scandal to the press;
- Against the warnings of the US and every other member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group that they would not choose Huawei or would curb their sharing if Britain choose Huawei;
- Within two months of GCHQ reporting that Huawei’s current products already represent ‘significant risk’ for British users.
As predicted in The Conservative Woman, on 8 May the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited to warn Theresa May privately and publicly of the consequences of choosing Huawei. He specifically warned that choosing Huawei ‘will impede the United States’ ability to share certain information within trusted networks. This is just what China wants – to divide western alliances’. He added: ‘China steals intellectual property for military purposes. It wants to dominate AI, space technology, ballistic missiles and many other areas.’ He asked rhetorically: ‘Why would anyone grant such power to a regime that has already grossly violated cyberspace?’ He asked also whether Margaret Thatcher would have allowed China ‘to control the internet of the future’.
Theresa May was not swayed. (When is she ever swayed, outside the EU?) She let the press know that she would not be swayed (presumably she was hoping this would demonstrate ‘strong and stable leadership’).
On Wednesday last week, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring US companies from using telecoms firms deemed high-risk, including Huawei, which is already subject to federal indictments. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright then told a technology conference in Paris that the British government would not be influenced by Trump’s decision.
This same week, the former Australian prime minister from the time when the Australian government banned Huawei from 5G, Malcolm Turnbull, spoke to a British newspaper to warn there are no technical solutions to the risk – Huawei is fundamentally a ‘high-risk vendor’. Remember: Huawei is a Chinese company obliged by Chinese law to co-operate with the Chinese state in the gathering of intelligence.
The Daily Telegraph continues to lead the reporting (it was first to report the National Security Council’s secret decision). Other newspapers have joined the consensus that the British government needs to reconsider or persuade us otherwise. The Daily Express columnist Ross Clark makes the fair argument: ‘It is not a case of accusing Huawei of being up to no good – simply saying that our telecommunications infrastructure is, like our defence system, highly security-sensitive and therefore must be built and controlled only by companies with the highest security clearance.’
Parliament isn’t investigating, even though it complains it has nothing to do because of May’s procrastination on Brexit.
With no official fora available, one MP, Bob Seely (Conservative, Isle of Wight), teamed up with the Henry Jackson Society and independent technical experts to investigate. They recommend that the Government should
- Block high-risk vendors such as Huawei from participation in the 5G network, unless they can prove a very high degree of insulation from the parent company;
- Work with other Western allies to provide alternatives to Chinese tech firms in the 5G space;
- Create a new risk assessment system that considers foreign state influence and transparency;
- Work with Five Eyes, instead of ignoring allies.
Appropriately, officials from that period, now retired, are free to comment. Look at this simple logic from Sir Richard Dearlove (chief of the Secret Intelligence Service or MI6, 1999-2004), who wrote a preface to the report:
‘No part of the Communist Chinese state is ultimately able to operate free of the control exercised by its Communist Party leadership. This is a simple statement of fact, not an opinion, about the inherent nature of the PRC and no amount of sophistry can alter it. Therefore, we must conclude the engagement of Huawei presents a potential security risk to the UK.’
In a subsequent interview, Dearlove warned (as I had warned on these pages) that the Chinese state could order Huawei to add hardware to enable Chinese state espionage. He added: ‘It’s a significant strategic company in the People’s Republic of China and if the Communist leadership of China says to Huawei at some point, jump, the response is: Well, yes, how high do you want us to jump?’
Against this consensus of expert opinion, the British government’s response is to declare the case closed or to pivot to the economy – a trick going back to David Cameron. So what is Huawei worth to the government? This week a report was released that Huawei contributed £1.7billion to Britain’s economy in 2018, and £470million in tax revenues.
So there you have the government’s evaluation of the value in pounds sterling of its surrender of national security and international special relationships.