Prime Minister Theresa May defies security warnings but will limit Chinese vendor to supplying ‘non-core’ infrastructure

Huawei on Wednesday welcomed reports that UK Prime Minister Theresa May will allow it to supply equipment for 5G networks, despite repeated warnings that the Chinese vendor represents a security risk.

"While we await a formal government announcement, we are pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work and we will continue [to] work cooperatively with the government, and the industry," said Huawei, in a statement emailed to Total Telecom. "This green light means that UK businesses and consumers will have access to the fastest and most reliable networks thanks to Huawei’s cutting edge technology."

The Telegraph reported late on Tuesday that the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by May, agreed to permit Huawei’s involvement in delivering so-called ‘non-core’ elements of 5G networks, such as antennas.

A source cited in a separate report by the Financial Times claimed the approval was granted on the condition that Huawei would face severe restrictions on its involvement.

Several senior UK ministers, including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson raised concerns about the decision.

Earlier this month, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, warned in a report that the UK government needed to face the reality of China’s strategic direction.

"There’s a reason others have said no," he said in the Telegraph report late Tuesday. "It is unwise to cooperate in an area of critical national infrastructure with a state [that] can at best be described as not always friendly."

The move is likely to anger the US, which has been pressuring governments the world over, particularly those in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – comprised of the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – to ban Huawei from having any involvement in 5G infrastructure.

Washington insists that Huawei has close ties with China’s military, and could be coerced by its government to carry out espionage, giving spies backdoor access to its network equipment. Huawei has repeatedly denied such claims.

Germany set something of a precedent when it defied US pressure, setting out its own terms for Huawei’s participation in 5G; now the UK seems to be following suit. It would be surprising if these developments do not prompt some sort of response from the Trump administration.

Additional reporting by Chris Kelly