United Kingdom

Spy report is set to wreck Boris Johnson's 5G broadband deal with Huawei

Boris Johnson will be presented with a devastating spy report this week that leaves his plans to allow Huawei to build Britain’s superfast 5G broadband network in tatters.

The National Cyber Security Centre was last month tasked with a review of the controversial Chinese tech giant’s involvement in Britain after a furious backbench rebellion.

The Mail on Sunday has learnt its probe has concluded that new US sanctions on Chinese technology have had a ‘severe’ impact on the firm’s viability, meaning significant changes are required to UK policy.

The NCSC believes a plan by Donald Trump – one of Huawei’s fiercest critics – to outlaw any US patented technology used in the firm’s microchips will render them unsafe because Asian alternatives, which are less trustworthy and effective, will have to be used.

In January, Mr Johnson gave Huawei the green light to build 35 per cent of Britain’s next generation of internet infrastructure. However, he was immediately hit by a rebellion on his own benches, amid fears of espionage and concern over the firm’s ties to China’s ruling Communist Party.

In January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave Huawei the green light to build 35 per cent of Britain’s next generation 5G internet infrastructure. However, questions over the security of doing so could leave the deal in tatters. Above, Huawei's Reading UK headquarters

Downing Street had hoped to delay the row until the autumn, in order to avoid a showdown with more than 60 Conservative MPs who are demanding the firm be banned.

The Prime Minister is now due to be briefed in the coming days on the report’s findings by Culture and Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden, who has oversight of the NCSC.

However, it is understood the findings are so severe that Mr Johnson will need to present them to Parliament by the end of the month. Whitehall insiders believe his original plan will be junked as a result.

This newspaper has also learned that Mr Dowden will recommend high-risk vendors, such as Huawei, are stripped out of Britain’s telecom networks by the end of 2029. Current departmental thinking is to announce a ‘no new orders’ directive to phone providers over Huawei kit from next year, to limit the amount going into British networks.

Boris Johnson and Downing Street had hoped to delay the row until the autumn, in order to avoid a showdown with more than 60 Conservative MPs who are demanding the firm be banned from providing the UK with its 5G infrastructure

However, industry experts have warned Ministers that if Huawei kit is stripped out too quickly, there are risks of mobile phone signal blackouts across parts of Britain.

The North is particularly reliant on Huawei equipment, raising the politically unpalatable notion of patchy phone signals in new Tory-won seats in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in the run-up to the 2025 Election.

The NCSC report has injected a new urgency into Mr Johnson’s handling of the telecoms issue. It is thought the development will be a blow to his 2019 manifesto promise for superfast broadband across the whole country by 2025.

However, sources denied Whitehall insiders’ claims that No 10 were attempting to ‘go slow’ on Huawei policy to see who wins the US presidential election in November.

The Prime Minister is now due to be briefed in the coming days on the report’s findings by Culture and Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden, pictured above, who has oversight of the NCSC

Some Ministers and officials are hoping Britain’s change of plans could be temporarily shelved amid the political uncertainty in Washington.

One source said: ‘It’s not clear that Trump is going to still be going so hard on this come November, so we would be mad not to take that into consideration when ripping up established policy.’

A Huawei spokesman said: ‘Huawei is the most scrutinised vendor in the world and we firmly believe our unrivalled transparency in the UK means we can continue to be trusted to play a part in Britain’s gigabit upgrade.’ 

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