Ministers today announced Huawei will be banned from the UK’s 5G network with all of the firm’s technology to be ripped out by 2027.
The move, announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, represents a major U-turn after the Government said in January that the Chinese tech giant would be allowed to help build the infrastructure.
Purchasing any new Huawei 5G equipment will be prohibited in the UK after December 31 this year and all of its hardware will then be removed from the network over the next seven years.
The decision, agreed by the National Security Council this morning, is likely to delay the completion of the rollout of the network by two years and increase costs by £1 billion.
The decision was made by the NSC after an assessment of the impact of new US sanctions on Huawei.
The move will spark Chinese government fury with Beijing having already warned that the UK would face ‘consequences’ if it pressed ahead with excluding Huawei.
But it will delight Tory MPs who have been pressuring the Government for months to reverse giving the firm the green light at the start of the year amid national security concerns.
However, while the company’s involvement in 5G will be banned, its existing technology in the UK’s 4G and 3G networks will remain in place.
The firm’s technology will also not be removed from the UK’s full fibre broadband network but there will be a technical consultation conducted on moving away from using Huawei in full fibre in the future.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today announced that Huawei technology is to be stripped out of the UK’s 5G network by 2027
The Huawei ban follows intense pressure from Donald Trump to deny China a foothold in the West’s critical infrastructure. Tough American sanctions have prevented the firm from using any US-patented technology in its microchips
That ‘transition period’ on full fibre is not expected to last more than two years. The reason for the slow move away from Huawei in full fibre has been blamed on the fact that it is currently one of only two available suppliers in the UK, along with Nokia.
The two year transition will be used to try to secure other viable alternative suppliers which could be used in the full fibre network.
The Government’s announcement came after it emerged that Huawei’s UK chairman is to step down early.
Lord Browne’s term was due to end in March but the former BP boss is now expected to depart in September.
The US has long urged its allies not use Huawei technology because of national security concerns – concerns which the firm has always rejected.
New sanctions imposed by the White House stop Huawei from using US technology in its 5G equipment.
Mr Dowden told MPs that the National Cyber Security Centre had assessed the impact of the sanctions and as a result had ‘significantly changed their security assessment of Huawei’s presence in the UK’s 5G network’.
The Culture Secretary said the ‘uncertainty’ over the status of Huawei’s supply chain meant the UK could ‘no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment’.
He said the ‘best way to secure our networks is for operators to stop using new affected Huawei equipment to build the UK’s future 5G networks’.
As a result it will be illegal for telecoms operators to buy Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year.
On the issue of then removing Huawei technology from the network, Mr Dowden said: ‘I know that honourable members have sought a commitment from the Government to remove Huawei equipment from our 5G network altogether.
‘This is why we have concluded that it is necessary and indeed prudent to commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G network by 2027.’
Ed Brewster, a spokesman for Huawei UK, said: ‘This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.
‘Instead of “levelling up” the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider.
‘We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.
‘Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security.’
The Government had faced fierce pressure from Tory MPs for months to rethink its decision in January to grant Huawei a role in the 5G network.
Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, called on the Government to take the opportunity to distance itself even further from Beijing.
In a column in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Tugendhat said it was time for the UK to kick its ‘addiction to Beijing tech’.
He said: ‘To keep power distributed and trade on the basis of law, not force, we need a new alliance. Going further than the World Trade Organisation and recognising the importance of India and Nigeria, would reinforce the interdependence of democracies against authoritarian regimes.
‘We have the innovations and size that could create a market for companies that share our values. The majority won’t be British but they’ll share our values, and that will protect us all.’
His sentiment was echoed by former Conservative leader William Hague, who wrote in the Telegraph: ‘What matters is that we should not be strategically dependent on Chinese technology for the future, and that will require building up the production of alternative companies.
Industry sources said yesterday the decision not to ban Huawei until Christmas left open the chance that US policy could change if President Trump fails to secure re-election in November
‘It is not essential to rip everything out immediately – we just have to be able to maintain our own critical infrastructure for the long term.’
Lord Hague warned Beijing’s ‘ludicrous attempts to shift blame or cover up’ over the coronavirus crisis would harden opinion.
He cautioned there was currently ‘no sign’ that the US and China could find a way of defusing tensions.
‘If that continues, the Government’s retreat on Huawei will be the beginning of a very long march indeed,’ he added.