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Huawei position in UK called into question by rowdy politicians

A small group of UK politicians are gathering steam in opposition of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, calling for zero involvement from high-risk vendors, and the Government did not directly disagree.

Led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a debate in Westminster Hall of the Houses of Parliament took place this morning with several politicians calling for a complete ban for Huawei, aligning the UK to the approach taken in the US and Australia. While the debate itself was full of wild claims and inaccuracies, the message from this small group of opponents was clear; Huawei should be banned from the shores.

There will of course always be opposition to every decision made by the Government, but this is an evolving conversation people should certainly pay attention to.

Smith and other politicians questioned the logic of a 35% limit for companies designated ‘high-risk vendors’, instead asking whether this should be formally reduced to 0% over a definite period of time. Warman, representing the interests of the Government, seemingly agreed with this position. The following exchange should be noted:

Warman: We want to get to a position where we do not have to use a high-risk vendor in our telecoms network.

Smith: I think this is a very important point. I want to know, and I think the rest of the House would like to know, is it now Government policy to drive to 0% involvement by Huawei and other non-secure vendors? Is that now the policy, not just 35%?

Warman: Our aim is to not be reliant on high-risk vendors at all and I appreciate he would like me to set out a timetable for that, and I can’t do that today.

What Warman appeared to state is that the Government intends to reduce the involvement of high-risk vendors to 0% at some point in the currently undefined future.

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said to Telecoms.com that the message offered by Warman is consistent with previous statements. The aim is to reduce the reliance on high-risk vendors, though the confusion which arises here is whether this will be driven below the 35% threshold which is present today. Warman did directly agree or disagree with the 0% objective of Iain Duncan Smith, though this might lead to more confusion.

While Huawei might be sitting comfortably today, these comments paint a slightly different picture. What should be worth noting is the language which is currently being employed, as should Huawei be able to prove it is not a high-risk vendor, this developing conversation would be redundant, but even the bravest optimist would admit it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove this tag.

Once question which will sit rather uncomfortably with those in the telecoms industry is where were these opinions during the Supply Chain Review? Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Chi Onwurah and Stewart McDonald are just some of the opponents to the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, but surely it would have been more useful to speak to the experts, understand industry nuances and competition to raise concerns during the summer of 2019 whilst the Review was taking place?

John Nicolson, the Scottish National Party MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, even suggested the UK should hit the brakes on the deployment of 5G. This motion seemed to attract some interest from other members of the debate.

Over the course of the session, which lasted for roughly 90 minutes, some very bold and strange statements were made. Smith suggested Samsung had stated in a letter that Huawei could not be trusted, Fujitsu is apparently a credible alternative, and one backbencher even suggested Huawei was involved in illegal organ harvesting. Some of the claims are of course very questionable, but the opposition to Huawei is gathering steam.

One point which was touted, and there is some credibility, is whether the Huawei restrictions are somewhat of a homage towards the Chinese Government as the UK pursues a valuable trade deal with the nation. In the Brexit-driven world of today, this is not entirely unbelievable, though it does beg the question as to whether the Government is prioritising the right objectives.

Suggestions high-risk vendors should be reduced to 0% in the future have not been made by the Government to date, though it is unclear from these comments whether this will be the case moving forwards.

For the industry, this is a worrying sign of inconsistency so soon after a collective sigh of relief was made following the conclusion of the Supply Chain Review. It might be costing the telcos a substantial amount to adjust deployment plans to meet the new restrictions, but these comments will need to be clarified and validated by the Government very quickly to avoid any more confusion.

This is an interesting position for Huawei. The Government has seemingly set its sights on irradiating high-risk vendors from communications infrastructure, perhaps thanks to pressure from certain allied nations. If it can remove the ‘high-risk vendor’ tag from its biography, all these problems would disappear for Huawei, though this might well be an impossible ambition considering the global political climate.

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