In a major reversal, the Prime Minister should ban the use of a new kit made by the Chinese manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in British 5G networks. The ban will take effect in a few months.
But Huawei wants an eleventh hour meeting with number 10 officials to implore Johnson not to completely expel the company from the networks before 2025 at the earliest.
This would give UK mobile operators more time to remove existing Huawei 5G equipment from their networks and switch to different providers.
Johnson announced in January that Huawei would play a limited role as a provider of the UK’s 5G networks, capping its market share at 35%.
But its National Security Council will meet on Tuesday to consider an official report that raises concerns about the role of the company.
The report from the National Cyber Security Center, a branch of the British signal intelligence agency GCHQ, was commissioned by the government after the Trump administration proposed new sanctions against Huawei that aim to ban it access to semiconductors manufactured with American equipment.
British officials fear that following the US sanctions due to take effect in September, it will be more difficult for the UK to control the Chinese-made semiconductors used by Huawei.
Johnson also faces a Conservative party rebellion against Huawei. A growing number of Conservative MPs are joining the Trump administration to say that the company provides Beijing with the opportunity to spy on Western countries.
The conservative rebellion has been reinforced by China’s decision to impose a tough new national security law on Hong Kong.
A well-placed Tory MP, Tory MP, said there was now a “huge” opposition to Huawei among his colleagues. The MP predicted that the government would lose any parliamentary vote on the company’s current role as a limited supplier of 5G kits.
The risk of defeat was highlighted in March when 36 conservative MPs voted against the government as the big conservatives tried in vain to change the law to exclude the Huawei kit from British telecommunications infrastructure after 2022.
It was the biggest Conservative rebellion against Johnson since winning the general election in December.
A government insider said Downing Street was concerned. “The government must appease the deputies and the American sanctions are a means for them to do so,” added the insider.
The conservative opposition to Huawei was chaired by the China Research Group, a conservative caucus led by Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House of Commons Special Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Neil O’Brien, backbencher.
But Huawei, which insists it is a private company rather than a branch of the Chinese state, seeks to repel conservative MPs opposed to it.
Huawei has hired several leading public relations companies in London. Burson, Cohn and Wolfe is the company’s main public relations agency, along with Finsbury. Both companies are part of the WPP group.
Flint Global, headed by Simon Fraser, former permanent secretary to the Foreign Office, advises Huawei on policy, while MHP Communications directs parliamentary relations.
The company also has several influential figures from the city of London on the board of its British subsidiary – including John Browne, former CEO of BP, and Mike Rake, former president of BT.
BT and other UK mobile operators have warned that reducing Huawei’s role in the UK telecommunications infrastructure could delay the deployment of 5G and disrupt services on other networks, including 4G .
Operators believe that the government will not allow Huawei to retain a long-term role in 5G, and is now focusing on its efforts to ensure that it does not quickly remove the kit from the Chinese company which has been used in some of its other networks.
An industry leader said the Johnson government, if seeking to limit Huawei’s role in the UK, was making a decision based on policy rather than security. “The United Kingdom is making a political decision,” said the executive.
Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei, highlighted the company’s ability to assist the government in its efforts to improve the telecommunications infrastructure – the Conservatives promised in the last election to provide gigabit download speeds to every home by 2025.
“The British government should not take a hasty decision [on Huawei’s role in 5G] without all the evidence, “he said. “5G is vital to the UK’s gigabit strategy and the future of the digital economy.”