Britain’s sovereignty will be in jeopardy if the UK allows Huawei to develop its 5G infrastructure, the US secretary of state has warned.
In a last-minute plea to senior ministers, who are expected to decide on Tuesday whether to use the Chinese company, Mike Pompeo described the decision facing Britain’s national security council as “momentous”.
The US administration has previously warned allies not to allow the company’s equipment to form part of their 5G networks, claiming it would be a security risk due to its links to the Chinese government. Huawei has repeatedly denied that its equipment could be used to spy on people.
Pompeo wrote on Twitter on Sunday night: “The UK has a momentous decision ahead on 5G.
“British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: ‘The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign’.”
He retweeted a comment by Tugendhat, the chairman of the commons foreign affairs committee in the last parliament, in which the Conservative MP said: “Sovereignty means control of data as much as land. We need to decide what we’re willing to invest in and who we are willing to share our tech with.
“The real costs will come later if we get this wrong and allow Huawei to run 5G.”
Pompeo’s last-ditch attempt follows Downing Street signalling that it believed Huawei kit was needed to ensure that the 5G mobile network was affordable. However, the government is expected to agree to new restrictions on the tech giant.
Furthermore, Britain’s spy agencies believe that any risk that Huawei technology could be compromised by the Chinese government to carry out surveillance can be mitigated. Their advice to ministers has been unchanged for nearly a year.
Pompeo is due to meet Boris Johnson and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in London on Wednesday.
The Home secretary, Priti Patel, dismissed reports on Sunday that she is “on the warpath” following claims the prime minister has been “bounced” by officials into letting Huawei build non-core parts of the 5G network.
She told Sky News that the report in the Sunday Times was “not accurate”, adding: “My role is very much to protect the national security of our country and that also includes intelligence services and communications as well.
“We are having discussions, and rightly so, and those discussions remain at the national security council level and within cabinet level.
“And of course we will have those discussions. We’ll have them privately and I’m not going to comment on speculation in newspapers.”
Patel said the UK’s co-operation with the Five Eyes network – an alliance also consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – would “absolutely continue”.
The US secretary of state’s warning follows a phone call between Johnson and Donald Trump on Friday, in which the leaders reportedly discussed the security of telecommunications networks.
“The two leaders discussed important regional and bilateral issues, including working together to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks,” a White House statement said.
The head of MI5, Andrew Parker, has previously said that there was “no reason to think” that using Huawei technology should threaten British intelligence sharing with the US. His statement has been contradicted by a senior US official who said: “Congress has made it clear they will want an evaluation of our intelligence sharing.”
Last year, the US imposed trade restrictions on Huawei over concerns about the company’s security and links to the Chinese government.
Allegations that their telecommunications equipment could be used to spy on people have been repeatedly denied by the company.