US senators have urged America's closest ally to reconsider its position on the use of Huawei's telecoms equipment.
In January, the UK announced that it will allow the use of Huawei's gear in a "limited capacity" following a multi-year security review.
A bipartisan group of 20 US senators wrote in a letter to the House of Commons:
“Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision, take steps to mitigate the risks of Huawei, and work in close partnership with the US on such efforts going forward.”
A similar letter was sent by 42 members of the US House of Representatives in January.
The UK's decision was made despite significant pressure from the US to outright ban the Chinese vendor's equipment. Prior to the decision, US intelligence officials were said to have provided their British counterparts with a dossier highlighting why they perceive Huawei to be a national security threat.
British intelligence officials concluded that any risks arising from the use of Huawei's equipment could be mitigated with sensible measures.
Huawei’s equipment will be allowed in no more than 35 percent of the access network which connects devices and equipment to mobile phone masts. Furthermore, Huawei will not be permitted in any critical infrastructure or sensitive sites like nuclear sites and military bases. All equipment will also continue to be checked at the dedicated Huawei Cyber Security Centre in Banbury for any potential risks.
The UK says its decision was made after its National Cyber Security Centre “carried out a technical and security analysis that offers the most detailed assessment in the world of what is needed to protect the UK’s digital infrastructure.”
The decision to press ahead with allowing Huawei's equipment was seen as evidence the UK will act independently post-Brexit rather than feel pressure to follow either the EU or the US. However, the decision to limit Huawei's equipment could be seen as the UK is taking the concerns of its closest ally into account.
Both the US and the UK are part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence relationship which also includes Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The US is concerned that any partner using Chinese equipment may pose a weak link.
The UK's decision has put a strain on the "special relationship" with the US. In a recent phone call between President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson, Trump reportedly hung up on Johnson over the Huawei decision. Johnson was said to have cancelled his visit to the US over frustration that Trump failed to offer any alternatives to the use of Huawei's equipment.
Huawei's equipment is already being used by all of the UK's major operators. An outright ban of the Chinese vendor's gear would be costly both in terms of obtaining replacement hardware and recruiting the required engineers to install it. Even under the UK's current plan to limit the use of Huawei's equipment, BT alone estimates the decision will cost it around £500 million over the next five years.
The UK's 5G rollout leadership in Europe would also be damaged. Significant new opportunities arising from the new generation network across most areas of the economy would be prevented from being harnessed.
It's clear British officials believe their plan achieves the right balance when it comes to weighing benefits and risks. Despite the US pressure, it's hard to imagine the UK changing its course on the Huawei issue now following such a lengthy security review and the 5G rollout already being well underway.
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