Boris Johnson sparks Huawei fire at NATO summit

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dealt a blow to Huawei hopes as US lobbying seems to gain some traction in the UK political arena.

Jamie Davies

December 5, 2019

3 Min Read
Boris Johnson sparks Huawei fire at NATO summit

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dealt a blow to Huawei hopes as US lobbying seems to gain some traction in the UK political arena.

The White House has been actively lobbying foreign governments for months, and while there seemed to be minimal success, the comments from Johnson will cause celebration and misery in different corners of the industry. Speaking at a press conference following meetings with several NATO leaders, including President Donald Trump, Johnson offered at least some comments.

“I don’t want this country to be hostile to investment from overseas,” said Johnson. “On the other hand, we cannot prejudice our vital national security interests nor can we prejudice our ability to cooperate with other Five Eyes security partners. That will be the key criterion that informs our decision about Huawei.”

While this is one of the strongest indications about Huawei action to date, it is suitably nuanced that it could in effect mean nothing. That said, Johnson has attempted to court favour from the US President in pursuit of an attractive trade deal and aligning the UK with the US on the question of Huawei would be one way to do this.

This should of course be taken with a pinch of salt, as we all know political statements can mean very little when it comes to action. Johnson is also not the only Conservative politician to make statements which paint controversy on Huawei.

“I would not want any company, whichever country it is from, that as a high-degree of control from a foreign government, to have access to our very sensitive telecommunications network,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said on the Andrew Marr show during the summer.

In total, 29 nations have been attending the NATO meeting in Watford, with Huawei being a topic of conversation in several press conferences. As you would imagine, Trump took the opportunity when addressing the press, even claiming that his conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte suggested Italy is on the verge of a ban, however Conte denied Huawei was discussed during his own session.

While the industry is still in a state of purgatory regarding the Huawei decision, questions will not be answered immediately, and this saga will most likely carry-on into the New Year. Johnson said during the press conference that no decisions would be made until after the General Election, taking place December 12, and with Christmas on the horizon, few meaningful decisions will be made.

“We’re confident the UK government will continue to take an objective, evidence-based approach to cyber security,” a Huawei spokesperson said. “Our customers trust us because we supply the kind of secure, resilient systems called for by the NATO Declaration and will continue working with them to build innovative new networks.”

For industry, this is another blow. Uncertainty is the enemy of investment and these comments simply create more ambiguity for the future of a key vendor in the 5G ecosystem. While it had looked like Huawei would be limited to the ‘dumb’ segments of the network, radio and transmission, further alignment with the US would suggest a complete ban is being considered.

A complete ban would be a bit of a disaster for most of the UK telcos. Huawei has relationships with all of the telcos and a ban on purchasing equipment would add delay to efforts to scale 5G infrastructure. Not only would certain components have to be retrofitted in the network, those who have been through the product testing stages with Huawei would have to head back to the initial stages with alternative vendors. A ban would add time and cost to deployment plans.

These comments should not be taken as gospel, though this press conference is a timely reminder of how close Johnson is to Trump. The US Government has been aggressively pursing action against Huawei, and should Johnson find himself with a majority Government next week, the Chinese vendor and some UK telcos might find themselves in a precarious position thanks to the special relationship.

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