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UK establishment goes to war with itself over Huawei 5G decision

A bunch of MPs are set to moan in parliament about Huawei today, while a corporate heavy hitter has been recruited as an expert witness for the defence.

Today sees the third reading of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-20, which was introduced at the start of this year and is apparently designed to support the UK government’s aggressive fibre rollout targets. However, MPs who are still bent out of shape over the decision to allow some Huawei presence in the UK’s 5G networks apparently see this as an opportunity to introduce an amendment banning Huawei entirely.

The mainstream media is reporting that quite a few Conservative MPs, led by party stalwart Ian Duncan-Smith, will be backing this amendment. We’re led to believe there could be as many as 30 of them, but since the government has a majority of 80, the it seems very unlikely they will succeed. At the very least, however, they’ve got a nice lot of coverage for their concerns and kept the conversation over Huawei and network security alive.

The bill was introduced by former Telegraph tech hack Matt Warman, who is now an MP and part of the department for digital and a bunch of other stuff. He recently argued the toss over this matter in parliament and seemed to agree that, in an ideal world, there would be no ‘high risk’ (i.e. Chinese) vendors’ kit in UK 5G networks at all. However, he wouldn’t make an outright commitment to such a move, nor commit to timescales.

Meanwhile Huawei has mobilised establishment business veteran Mike Rake, who has been on the board of an impressive number of companies, including BT, to write an open letter to nobody in particular, addressing the matter. Here it is in full.

Dear Sir [bit of a controversial start – Ed]

As we leave the EU it has never been more critical to have an open, proactive and informed approach to trade; not just with European partners, but as leading Brexiters have continuously and rightly said, with the US, China and other major economies.

We must also make better use of existing and emerging technologies to improve our productivity and competitiveness. It is in this context that the government rightly put pressure on BT during the time that I was Chairman, and since, to rapidly expand full fibre availability and to be one of the first countries to invest in and launch 5G. Much progress has been made with much still to do. The industry is only able to do this by buying the best equipment at the best price, while ensuring security and diversity of supply.

In relation to 5G considerable progress has been made. This could not have been achieved without using Huawei, who were the first to make reliable equipment available at an economic price. BT and the industry have always been cognisant of the security risks of all suppliers, none of whom are based in the UK and whose equipment is mostly manufactured in China. That is why in 2010, the UK was unique in establishing an independent centre for the verification of Huawei’s software code and hardware – done with the full cooperation of GCHQ. We are fortunate in this country to have in GCHQ, one of the best intelligence gathering agencies in the world. They are clear that this risk can be managed with the safeguards and limits which have been established.

Any attempt to further restrict Huawei 5G equipment, or to remove existing 4G equipment will not only incur very significant costs, but prejudice trade relationships with China and will significantly set back the Government’s broadband ambitions. This in turn will further damage our competitiveness as an economy, at what is a critical moment.

We cannot afford to set back the important technological and communication progress we have made, with ill-informed assertions which are not supported by the facts and the experts. The government has taken an evidence-based decision and we should all support it.

Yours sincerely

Sir Mike Rake

Chairman BT (2007 to 2017), President CBI ( 2013 to 2015), Advisor to Huawei (2019 to present).

Rake is described as ‘Huawei UK advisor’ a role we assume he hasn’t adopted solely out of boredom or the kindness of his heart. In other words, in this current capacity he is effectively acting as a Huawei employee and his words should be viewed in that context. His Twitter profile also reveals he is openly hostile to Brexit, a position he shares with many other establishment types, so he probably wants the UK to align with the EU position on Huawei.

There are some nice euphemisms in the letter, such as ‘economic’ instead of ‘cheap’, but regardless of an economic incentives Rake may have had to right the letter, his argument is sound. The fact still remains that our very well-informed experts reckon the risk can be managed at the proposed level of exposure, so who are these MPs to argue otherwise, unless they themselves have ulterior motives?

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2 comments

  1. Avatar Barry Inman 10/03/2020 @ 5:03 pm

    How dare you cast aspertions about the MPs who are resisting the Huwei/China agenda, and in particular when taken against your own point in the editorial that Mike Rake is an “advisor” to Huawei! You might also note the similar moves by Huawei and BT when his own CTO made a similar move during Rake’s tenure just after procurement decisions were made in Huawei’s favour in the previous period. There are more that enough strong suppliers for all that the state-sponsored/subisidised Huawei have available!
    Balance your view, and take aim at the real target and dig deeper into the very questionable relationship between BT, its Execs, employees, and Huawei (not least weakened by BTs acquisition of EE!!).

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 10/03/2020 @ 5:39 pm

      What a strange comment. I don’t think you really get how journalism works, do you Bazza?

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