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Boris Johnson is starting to look short of friends

Transatlantic conflict was to be expected following the Supply Chain Review decision, but Downing Street could soon become the battleground for some ‘blue-on-blue’ warfare.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is en route, presumably to sit in Downing Street before huffing and puffing, but it is enemies closer to home which might case the most immediate of problems. Alongside the enthusiasm for the Huawei compromise, there have of course been just as many critics.

The House of Commons proved to be somewhat of a tough test for the Supply Chain Review.

“The Prime Minister has gone for the cheapest, least secure option, but it does not take a genius to work out why Huawei is so competitive in cost,” said John Nicolson, an MP representing the Scottish National Party. “It is the Chinese Communist party branded as a company, and the Conservative Government have chosen low cost over security.”

“I cannot work out whether it is naivety or arrogance that prevents the UK Government from seeing the high risk presented to our national security by Huawei,” said Carol Monaghan, another SNP MP. “This is a company financed by the Chinese Communist party, and we are giving it an open door to our security.”

And unfortunately for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, there are also vocal critics within his own party.

“It was founded by a member of the People’s Liberation Army. Even if it were not an arm of the Chinese Government, the 2017 law requires that it take instruction from the Chinese intelligence agency,” said Conservative MP David Davis. “In the future, the size and complexity of the problem we are trying to protect against will be enormous. Huawei alone—forget the rest of China—has tens of thousands of researchers working on this, and I am afraid that the only way to protect our safety is to ban it.”

“I have spoken at length to security officials, who will always say that defending in cybersecurity is a game of catch-up – always catching up with the next algorithm change, and we can never guarantee that we spot it sometimes until too late,” said another Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Criticism from the other side of the political aisle is part and parcel of the game, but internal sniping, blue-on-blue warfare if you will, could cause damage. With Brexit still a potential hot spot for Downing Street, Johnson could use as much support as possible internally.

That said, the impact of the Supply Chain Review on European relations might be somewhat positive, though this is a long-shot.

The UK stance on Huawei and relationships with China now looks much more aligned with the Europeans than the US. In 5G security guidance offered to member states, the European Commission has suggested nations air on the side of caution, but it has made no direct links to Huawei or China as a state. The dangers have been identified, but the finger of accusation has not been pointed.

There are also European nations who are looking to the UK. Germany and France, amongst others, might well be buoyed by the decision. Numerous EU member states have been distancing themselves from a complete ban, and the UK might well be the first domino to fall in favour of Huawei. Despite the Brexit fracas, the UK is still an influential voice; if Huawei is considered safe for London, it might well gain traction elsewhere on the bloc now.

This is of course the polar-opposite position from the US, where the reaction to the Supply Chain Review has been varied.

“Allowing Huawei to build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War,” said Senator Tom Cotton.

Cotton is one of the most strident opponents of Huawei, who’s attitudes towards China flirt with the line of xenophobia, so it is hardly surprising to hear such statements. Although President Donald Trump has been relatively quiet on the announcement, Cotton has effectively been a White House puppet over recent months, very enthusiastically portraying the party line.

“British decision to accept Huawei for 5G is a major defeat for the United States,” said Newt Gingrich, a former-Speaker of the US House of Representatives. “How big does Huawei have to get and how many countries have to sign with Huawei for the US government to realize we are losing the internet to China? This is becoming an enormous strategic defeat.”

This is perhaps what the UK and the US will have to accept over the coming months; the special relationship is coming to an end. In dismissing demands and threats from the White House with regard to Huawei, the UK is effectively distancing itself from the US. This is a strained friendship already, and we suspect the White House does not like to be ignored.

The issue with many compromises is that no-one is entirely satisfied. This decision from the UK Government looks to be the most logical and proportional response to genuine concerns on both sides of the argument, though as it is a half-way house, it has been opened-up to political dissection.

With disagreements in the Conservative Party and contradiction to US policy, the Prime Minister is losing friends. In aligning the telecoms policy with the European Commission, he might look to the continent for allies, though considering the on-going Brexit conflict, this will also be a tricky sell. Downing Street is looking like a very lonely place.

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