Involving Huawei in 5G network 'absolutely right' decision, says Oliver Letwin

Oliver Letwin was responsible for national resilience under David Cameron's Government. Picture: GettyOliver Letwin was responsible for national resilience under David Cameron's Government. Picture: Getty
Oliver Letwin was responsible for national resilience under David Cameron's Government. Picture: Getty
Former Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin has said involving Chinese telecoms firm Huawei in the UK’s 5G network is a “very sensible decision” as pressure grows on the Government over the issue.

Conservative critics led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith tabled an amendment in Parliament to ban “high-risk vendors” from the system after 2022 on Tuesday, with 38 Tory MPs joining the rebellion over concerns allowing Huawei to supply “non-core” elements of the 5G network could jeopardise security because of the firm’s ties to the Chinese state. The White House has banned the firm from US telecoms networks and has been highly-critical of the Government’s decision, which came despite intense lobbying from the States.

But speaking to The Yorkshire Post before this week’s vote, Sir Oliver, who was responsible for the UK’s national resilience under David Cameron’s Government, said the current approach was correct.

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“I think the decision is absolutely right. My strong belief is the so-called security worries raised by the United States are nothing of the kind. They are actually because America is trying to defend its professional interests because no American firm has the relevant technology yet whereas we and the Chinese between us do. This is actually a very sensible decision in my view.

“When I was involved at an earlier stage of the decision about Huawei involvement in the telecom network, it became clear to me talking to the experts that we actually had better visibility of what they were up to and more likelihood of being able to prevent ourselves being subject to problems from China if we did allow them in and involved ourselves in their activities.”

Sir Iain had warned MPs that the rebels were “genuinely concerned” about the involvement of the firm he described as being “essentially almost completely owned” by Chinese trade unions controlled by the state.

“The reality is that when it comes to security versus cost, my view is security wins every single time because I worry when we start compromising security,” he added.

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Ahead of the vote defeated by 282 votes to 306, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote to Tory MPs setting out the measures the Government was taking to restrict Huawei’s involvement.

And he restated the commitment to see the firm replaced by competitors over time.

“I wish to stress again that the Government is clear-eyed about the challenges posed by Huawei,” Mr Dowden wrote.

“That is why the National Security Council made a decision to: exclude them from the security critical network functions in 5G networks, and reduce their presence in other network functions up to a strict market share cap of 35%.

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“This position is based on the comprehensive security advice provided by the cyber security branch of GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre.”

Huawei hit back at allegations, with vice president Victor Zhang saying: “An evidence-based approach is needed, so we were disappointed to hear some groundless accusations asserted.

“The industry and experts agree that banning Huawei equipment would leave Britain less secure, less productive and less innovative.”

Senior Tories to join Sir Iain in voting against the Government included former Cabinet ministers Damian Green and David Davis, Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat and Tory backbench 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

Their move reflects widespread misgivings across the party over the decision, with fears that it could give China a “backdoor” to spy on the UK’s telecoms network.