Britain is set to phase out Huawei equipment from its 5G mobile networks this year, the U.K. press reported over the weekend. If so, it marks a major U-turn in the government’s position on the Chinese telecommunications giant.
The government is drawing up plans to strip Huawei gear from Britain’s next-generation networks by the end of the year, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph newspapers reported.
It comes after London said in January that Huawei could play a limited role in Britain’s 5G networks, a move which angered the U.S. as it sought to get other countries to block the Chinese company. Washington maintains that Huawei is a national security risk, alleging its equipment could be used by Beijing for espionage. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Officials are drawing plans to speed up the removal of existing Huawei kit, although an exact timetable is yet to be set, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing unpublished proposals. No date has yet been set for a cross-government discussion at the National Security Council.
“If the U.S. imposes sanctions, which they have done, we believe that could have a significant impact on the reliability of Huawei equipment and when we can use it safely,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Monday when asked about the prospect of phasing out Huawei. “If it’s appropriate to change policy, we’ll clearly make a statement to the House of Commons when we’ve been through that and made a decision,”
The apparent policy reversal was driven by a new report from a branch of British intelligence agency GCHQ that raised new security fears over Huawei following U.S. moves to cut off the Chinese firm from key chips.
The new U.S. rule passed in May, requires foreign manufacturers using American chipmaking equipment to get a license before being able to sell semiconductors to Huawei. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) launched an emergency review of Huawei’s role shortly after.