Senior Tories have called for Boris Johnson to U-turn on its decision to allow Huawei into Britain’s 5G network as Mike Pence warned that the move could put US-UK trade talks in jeopardy.
A letter signed by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and four former cabinet ministers says there is cross-party concern over the issue, and calls for more ministers to come forward.
It comes as Britain’s new ambassador to Washington, Dame Karen Pierce, was plunged into deep water on day one of her job over the issue.
Former ministers Owen Paterson, former Brexit minister David Davis and former Secretary of State Damian Green all put their names to the letter that states some MPs were ‘working to find a better solution’ to the 5G issue.
They also call for ‘high-risk’ vendors, which Huawei was designated by the UK, to be ruled out immediately or phased out over time.
Sir Iain told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There is real concern across the floor of the House. I think there is a lot of disquiet over this.
‘The truth is if they are not a trusted vendor, if, as the Foreign Secretary said at the despatch box, that China is considered to be an aggressor in these matters, they are constantly attacking our systems alongside Russia – they claim that Russia is an aggressor, but they won’t have anything to do with Russian technology – then surely the same principle must apply to China.
‘And, I think, therefore, we need to get the Government to look to get the involvement of Huawei, not to 35 per cent, but to zero. We are turning out to be the mugs in this game.’
The Government has said Huawei would be limited to involvement in 35% of the network and kept away from sensitive areas.
Donald Trump is reported to have become ‘apoplectic’ with Mr Johnson last week when the Prime Minister called to say the UK was defying US advice to ban Huawei altogether.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made conciliatory noises about the decision during a visit to London last week.
But Mr Pence yesterday suggested the White House remained furious.
Asked whether the UK’s decision on Huawei could be a deal-breaker for the trade talks, Mr Pence responded: ‘We’ll see.’
He told US broadcaster CNBC yesterday: ‘The United States is very disappointed that the United Kingdom has decided to go forward with Huawei.
‘We are profoundly disappointed because look, when I went at the president’s direction in September, I met with Prime Minister Johnson and I told him the moment the UK was out of Brexit we were willing to begin to negotiate a free trade arrangement with the UK.’
He also made clear that the White House was still trying to ‘figure out’ what Huawei’s inclusion would mean, but said the US does not believe ‘utilising the assets and technology of Huawei is consistent with the security or privacy interests of the UK, of the United States’.
Dame Karen, whose appointment has to be confirmed by the US administration, was most recently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations.
She cuts a colourful figure on the diplomatic circuit and is said to have impressed Mr Trump, who reportedly described her as ‘fab’ following an encounter at the UN.
She now faces the task of trying to calm US concerns about Huawei, which Washington said is a risk to the security of the UK and its intelligence partners.
Relations are also strained over the refusal of the US to allow the extradition of diplomat’s wife Anne Sacoolas, who is wanted in connection with the road death of Harry Dunn.
Downing Street has defended the Huawei decision and insisted that intelligence-sharing with the US and other allies in the Five Eyes partnership – Australia, Canada and New Zealand – would continue.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly faced criticism over the decision when he met MPs on Thursday during his trip to Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he was asked: ‘How would you feel if the Russians laid down infrastructure in your own networks? That’s how we feel about Huawei.’