Each new day brings a further bizarre twist in the Huawei saga as to whether or not its equipment should be used in future 5G networks. The latest turn comes from the United Kingdom, where the political noise surrounding the China-based telecom behemoth has led to the sacking of a cabinet minister.
U.K. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson was fired this week by Prime Minister Theresa May after she received “compelling” evidence of Williamson’s involvement in the recent leak of documents that showed a May-chaired commission had decided to allow Huawei equipment to be used in that country’s 5G networks.
Williamson denies that he was behind the leak and said in a letter to May that he was confident that a “thorough and formal enquiry would have vindicated my position.”
May has been attempting to put the entire matter behind her, although there have been calls from other members of parliament for the matter to be taken to the police. May this week said Britain was committed to taking decisions that were “supported by a hard-headed, technically informed assessment of the risk. We do discuss very closely, with our allies, security issues. We have put in place a review of the 5G supply chain to make sure we have a secure and resilient roll out of 5G, and the decisions of that review will be announced in due course.”
Tom Tugendhat, a member of parliament and chair of the foreign affairs select committee, pointed to the growing level of international concern over the possible security risks linked to the use of telecom equipment from China.
“The decision that is being discussed in many parts of the world at the moment is the possibility that we will be nesting a dragon in the critical national infrastructure of the U.K. by allowing Huawei to build the cyber network that will power 5G,” Tugendhat said. “This decision is frankly extraordinary given the advice of the National Security Agency in the United States and the Australian Signals Directorate.”
The U.S. continues to apply pressure on its Western allies, with a recent salvo from Robert Strayer, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of State, who reportedly said that western countries that adopt Huawei technology for 5G networks risk intelligence cooperation with the United States.
The U.K. debacle serves to underline the degree to which the use of Huawei equipment has become a political hot potato. In Europe, there have been attempts at a compromise in some markets – including the U.K. – by deciding to only use Huawei in non-core areas of the network. However, some think any involvement of Huawei equipment presents too great a risk.