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National security officials from the U.S. visited the U.K. on Monday to push their claim that allowing Chinese telecom giant Huawei access to the country’s 5G networks would be “nothing short of madness.”
Less than 24 hours later, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested once again that when he does make a final decision on the matter, he will likely ignore Washington’s concerns and allow the Chinese company access to the non-core part of the U.K.’s next-generation cell phone network.
“The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody,” Johnson told the BBC. “Now if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”
Johnson’s comments came days after the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, said he had “no reason to think” that using Huawei technology should threaten intelligence sharing with the U.S.
On Monday, the U.S. delegation, led by deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, presented ministers in Westminster with new evidence claiming to show security risks posed by using the Chinese firm. For the last two years, the U.S. government has claimed Huawei has provided the Chinese government with back-door access to its equipment to conduct widespread surveillance.
One U.S. official speaking to the Guardian said that the U.S. president hopes not to fall out with Johnson over the issue, but warned, “Donald Trump is watching closely.”
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the U.K.’s imminent departure from the EU, triggering crucial trade talks between London and Washington in the coming months.
The U.S. officials in London wouldn't reveal the nature of the recent intelligence they had gathered.
The U.S. government has yet to provide any concrete evidence showing that Huawei is allowing the Chinese government to build backdoors into its equipment in order to spy on countries around the globe — allegations Huawei has continuously and strenuously denied.
For the last year, the U.S. has been engaged in a very public lobbying campaign to persuade its allies to remove Huawei equipment from their mobile phone networks. While some countries, like New Zealand and Australia, have toed the line, Germany and France have pushed back, saying they would not exclude Huawei from their 5G networks.
Huawei already provides 5G equipment to cell phone providers in the U.K. and its equipment is seen as cheaper and more advanced than rivals like Swedish company Ericsson and Nokia from Finland.
Cover: Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, speaking in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, whilst on a visit to meet the leaders of the restored powersharing government. Liam McBurney/PA Wire URN:49546412 (Press Association via AP Images)