10 March: The UK government’s plans to allow Huawei limited access to development of its 5G network squeaked past in the House of Commons. Thirty-eight Conservative MPs refused to follow the government’s instructions and voted for an amendment to the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill that would have banned Huawei as a “high risk vendor”.
But seeing as GCHQ has approved of the Government’s plan, why were these MPs so ready to oppose the government. GCHQ has monitored Huawei technology very closely through its facility in Banbury known as “The Cell”. If the boffins at GCHQ are content that they can mange the risk and that this will make the UK network stronger, what makes these Conservative MPs feel that they know better? It doesn’t make sense.
The answer lies in the voting record of the MPs. They are to a man (and woman) Brexiteers. Their greatest concern at the moment is to prove that Brexit works. To do this they need a trade deal with the United States and as part of its anti-China trade policy, the US has made it very clear that anyone who deals with Huawei endangers any trade deal. Since the UK government first announced its plans, several high-level US politicians have been leaning on their UK counterparts warning them to toe the line or lose the deal. The Brexiteer faction in the Conservative Party is terrified of this. As so often in life, it turns out that this is not an issue about national security, but about money. Despite all the scaremongering about security from the Brexiteers, the UK intelligence services are content with the Government’s plans. And they are in the best place to know.
But this problem has not gone away. In the summer, this Bill will return to the House of Commons and the US will continue to lean heavily on MPs with threats about the trade deal. Many pro-Brexit MPs supported the government this time for fear of appearing disloyal very early in the new administration. But they have indicated that they may change their vote unless the Government gives in to US pressure.