The Director General of MI5, Andrew Parker, has said that he does not believe that it will affect the intelligence sharing alliance with the United States if the UK includes some elements of Huawei technology in British communications systems. A decision on the issue is expected later this month following a GCHQ-led inquiry into the security risks.
The statement was seen as necessary for two reasons. First, as a signal to the rest of the world: Recent indications have seemed to show that the United Kingdom is little more than a vassal in the UK/US relationship. It has always been the junior partner, but under the Trump administration this position has appeared to weaken significantly. For instance, the UK was not informed in advance of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. This could have had serious implications for the safety of British troops in the region and a warning would have, at least, been a courtesy. Israel, which actually does have a special relationship with Washington, in part because of its significant control of political funding in the United States, did get a warning of the possible risk. Similarly, the wife of a CIA officer, Anne Sacoolas, 42, fled to the United States after running down and killing British motorcyclist Harry Dunn, 19, near the CIA/NSA base at RAF Croughton. The UK has now put in an extradition request so that Sacoolas can return to the UK to face justice. The State Department has called the request “an abuse” indicating that they will not comply with the request. This is seen by some as suggesting that the families of US intelligence officials can run down and kill British citizens with a degree of impunity. Once again this suggests that the UK has no influence in these matters, or at least, significantly less than it had before the Trump administration.
Second, this statement by Parker should also be seen as a signal to the United States. The latest stage in the decline of US/UK intelligence relations was the declaration by Republican senator, Tom Cotton, that the UK could expect “significant restrictions” in intelligence sharing if it dared to include any Huawei technology in its systems. This suggested that any findings of the UK Government’s enquiry into Huawei are irrelevant and that the UK must do as it is told. Such subservience is hardly the message that the UK wishes to send out in the same month that Brexit is achieved and when it is about to start key trade talks with the United States. The message from Parker is in effect: “back off!”
The UK is hoping that US threats to exclude the UK if it makes its own independent decision are as empty as Trump’s threat to hit thirty-two sites with missiles if Iran retaliated against the Soleimani assassination. They did, he didn’t. Wiser heads prevailed. It is these wiser heads that Parker was addressing.