US says using Huawei in UK 5G network would be ‘madness’

Ministers told allowing Chinese firm access would risk intelligence sharing

(Image credit: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

The US has warned Britain that using Huawei technology in the UK’s 5G networks would be “nothing short of madness”.

In an ultimatum described as “extraordinary” by The Guardian, senior US officials also told British ministers that allowing the Chinese firm access to the nation’s telecom network would put transatlantic intelligence sharing at risk.

After sharing a dossier of technical information that aims to contradict British intelligence’s own assessment, one official said that the US president hoped not to fall out with the UK over the issue but added: “Donald Trump is watching closely.”

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Boris Johnson has been advised by the UK’s security establishment that any risks can be contained and he is expected to make a final decision on whether to include Huawei soon.

Over the weekend, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, told the Financial Times in a rare interview that he saw “no reason to think” that using Huawei technology would threaten intelligence sharing with the US. However, an unamed senior US official refuted that, saying: “Congress has made it clear they will want an evaluation of our intelligence sharing.”

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Bloomberg says Huawei’s supporters argue that the company’s equipment can be used in non-core areas in a way that keeps the network secure, but the US claims that the effects of the leap to 5G technology are so poorly understood that the safest and best solution is to keep the Chinese company out altogether.

The final decision on Huawei’s involvement in the UK telecoms network is expected by the end of the month. The company has consistently denied that its technology can be used for spying purposes by the Chinese government.

A Huawei spokesperson told the BBC: “We are a private company which has supplied 3G, 4G and broadband equipment to the UK's telecoms companies for 15 years. British experts are clear our technology does not pose a security risk.”

The Financial Times reports that all four mobile networks in Britain — Vodafone, BT, EE and Three — have now launched 5G using the Chinese company’s equipment at the “non-core level”.

The paper notes this means the technology is used in “antennas and base stations used on masts and rooftops”, but is not used where “customer details are held and calls are routed”.

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