Addressing the Commons following Mr Dowden’s announcement Britain will ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its mobile networks, the SNP politician claimed Boris Johnson failed to make the same decision back in January 2020 because he had realised “Brexit Britain was too weak to upset China”. He said: “Of course it’s right that Huawei should be banned from UK’s mobile networks.
“But it’s a decision that should have been taken long ago.
“As I said to the Foreign Secretary in January, had the Government acted in 2018 as the Australians did, our mobile operators’ 5G plans would have been in an infinitely better place.
“As it is we will now pay the price for the Government’s ineptitude. We know it, the Secretary of State knows it and increasingly Tory backbenchers know it.
“So how was it that the Prime Minister thought that China and Huawei could be trusted or at least managed in January in July?
“Was it that a Brexit Britain was too weak and isolated to upset the world second-largest economic powerhouse?”
But the Culture Secretary hit back: “He talks about the January 2020 advice, that was based on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre who were working with GCHQ.
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“With all due respect, they are probably a better source to rely upon than the Honourable Gentleman!”
Oliver Dowden, addressing the risks to the 5G network, claimed the UK has acted “quickly, decisively and ahead of our international partners” before telling MPs: “This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy – both now and in the long run.”
The Culture Secretary said the UK will need to take a different approach to full fibre and older networks, which recognises they are different to 5G in terms of technology, security and vendors supporting them.
He said: “Given there’s only one other appropriate-scale vendor for full fibre equipment, we’re going to embark on a short technical consultation with operators to understand their supply chain alternatives so we can avoid unnecessary delays to our gigabit ambitions and prevent significant resilience risks.”
Mr Dowden said the Telecoms Security Bill will now not appear before MPs ahead of the summer recess but will be introduced in the autumn given the decision.
He said countries around the world have become “dangerously reliant on too few vendors”, adding the UK has outlined its diversification strategy.
On China, he said the Government is “clear-eyed” before telling the Commons: “What we want is a modern and mature relationship with China based on mutual respect where we’re able to speak frankly when we disagree but also to work side by side with China on the issues where our interests converge.
“Today’s decision, however, is about ensuring the long-term security of our telecoms network – specifically in light of those new US sanctions.
“The security and resilience of our telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have never and will never compromise that security in pursuit of economic prosperity.”
Mr Dowden went on: “There can be no new Huawei equipment from the end of this year and (we’ve) set out a clear timetable to exclude Huawei completely by 2027 with an irreversible path implemented by the time of the next election.
“Telecoms providers will be legally required to implement this by the Telecoms Security Bill.”
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Reacting to the news, Huawei UK spokesman Ed Brewster said: “This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone.
“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.
“Instead of ‘levelling up’, the Government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider.
“We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.
“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security.
“Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.
“We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK Government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain.”