US Vice President Mike Pence today suggested the UK’s decision to grant Huawei a role in its 5G network could harm the chances of agreeing a post-Brexit trade deal.
Mr Pence was asked if Boris Johnson’s decision to give the Chinese tech giant the green light would be a deal breaker for a potential trade pact between the US and UK and he replied: ‘We’ll see.’
It comes after it was claimed that Donald Trump was ‘apoplectic’ during a call with Mr Johnson when the pair discussed Huawei.
Mr Johnson announced at the end of January that Huawei would be allowed to help build the UK’s 5G network despite opposition from the US and the prospect of a Tory rebellion.
The US administration has urged allies to ban Huawei from their infrastructure, claiming it would be a security risk – something the company vehemently denies.
Mr Pence told US broadcaster CNBC: ‘The United States is very disappointed that the United Kingdom has decided to go forward with Huawei.’
He added: ‘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.’
Mr Pence then made clear the White House was still trying to figure out what the Huawei decision could mean for those trade negotiations.
He said the US does not believe ‘utilizing the assets and technology of Huawei is consistent with the security or privacy interests of the UK, of the United States’.
Mr Pence concluded by saying that the use of Huawei ‘remains a real issue’ between the UK and the US.
The UK has branded Huawei a ‘high risk vendor’ but the company will be allowed to take a limited share in ‘non-core’ parts of the British 5G network.
The Financial Times reported that British officials were taken aback by the force of Mr Trump’s language when Mr Johnson telephoned him to explain his decision.
Downing Street today refused to be drawn directly on the report, insisting that the relationship with the US remained ‘excellent’.
However, there was no direct denial of the tone of the call. Asked about the conversation, a No 10 spokesman referred to a statement issued at the time of the Huawei decision.
That statement highlighted Mr Johnson’s comments on the need for liked-minded countries to work together ‘to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies’.
The spokesman expressed confidence that intelligence-sharing with the US and other allies in the Five Eyes partnership – Australia, Canada and New Zealand – would continue as in the past.
‘We have been clear that this will in no way inhibit our ability to share intelligence with other countries including Five Eyes partners,’ he said.
However, media reports from Australia claimed that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is on a visit to the country – came under fire over the decision when he met MPs on Australia’s parliamentary intelligence committee in Canberra yesterday.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he was confronted by one member who told him: ‘How would you feel if the Russians laid down infrastructure in your own networks? That’s how we feel about Huawei.’