The government should remove Chinese firm Huawei from the UK’s 5G network by 2025 instead of 2027, as planned by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.
The telecoms company will be banned from establishing 5G, but will remain involved in 3G and 4G.
Duncan Smith said allowing Huawei to work on this also represents a continuing “risk” to national security.
But the government said it would “guarantee” that the UK’s communications system was as “secure as possible.”
Huawei, which has repeatedly said it would do no harm to any country, predicted that the UK would now be pushed “into the slow digital lane,” with higher bills for consumers.
In January, ministers announced that the company would remain outside the sensitive core of the 5G network, including national intelligence, but would be allowed to participate in up to 35% elsewhere.
This sparked criticism from conservative banking lawmakers, gathered by Duncan Smith, who called Huawei an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and a risk to the United Kingdom.
The United States, with which the United Kingdom shares much of its intelligence, also applied diplomatic pressure for a rethink.
Under its revised plans, the government says Huawei will not be able to install any equipment for the 5G network starting next year, and that its existing equipment will be phased out by 2027.
But Duncan Smith told the House of Commons that the BT chief thought the removal could occur two years earlier.
He said, “I think he [Mr. Dowden] can do it faster than this … There is no reason why it can’t [happen].”
The government thought it had made its decision on Huawei earlier this year. He wanted to continue with faster internet delivery and he thought Huawei was in the best position to guarantee fast updates.
But since then, the United States has continued to push, and its decision to impose new sanctions on China is a crucial factor.
Meanwhile, dozens of Tory backbenchers continued their opposition, and refused to line up. They have cautiously welcomed the announcement that the UK is pulling away from Huawei, but they want things to move faster. Some are also uncomfortable that the company’s technology will remain on the 3G and 4G network.
However, this decision was not free. Ministers admit that it will delay the launch of 5G across the UK and will cost significant amounts of money, to the billions. They have also had to consider warnings from telecommunications providers about service provision.
Ultimately, however, the combination of political pressure – international and domestic – has won the debate in government.
Duncan Smith added that there were “contradictions” in Huawei’s ban on 5G but not 3G and 4G, which would undergo Huawei “software updates” for the next decade. “
“So if they are a risk to us in 5G, why aren’t they a risk to us in general?” I ask.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden replied: “The reality of the 5G network is that it is fundamentally different and it is an acknowledgment of that fundamental difference that we are imposing these rules on 5G.
“Of course, over time … 5G will be replaced by 6G, and in all of that Huawei will be absent.”
He also said: “Of course, there is no perfectly secure network, but the government’s responsibility is to ensure that it is as secure as possible.”
Workers’ shadow secretary for foreign affairs, Lisa Nandy, described the announcement as a “welcome, long-awaited step,” but accused the government of “not having a consistent approach” to China.
Speaking to the BBC, she said that while one department is “trying to ban them from the 5G network,” another is “considering turning over the technology involved in our nuclear industry to the Chinese government.”
SNP culture spokesman John Nicolson said he had been wrong in the first place in allowing Huawei to get closer to the “nervous system” of the UK’s telecommunications network.
And Labor MP Chris Bryant told the Commons that there was “unity” among MPs in opposition to the company’s increased involvement in 5G, saying: “I would like the government to listen to its own supporters.”
The United States has claimed that China could use Huawei to “spy, steal, or attack” the United Kingdom, but the company denies this, and its founder has said he would rather close the company than do something to harm its customers.
Sanctions imposed in May by Washington have limited China’s access to American chip technology, prompting the UK’s National Center for Cyber Security to launch a review of Huawei use.