Tory MPs are not happy with the Huawei decision. Normally loyal MPs are expressing their bafflement at the announcement. As one of them put it to me yesterday: if they’re not safe to be at the core of the network, how are they safe to be in any of it?
The crucial determinant of whether this row continues or not is what this 35 per cent cap on ‘high risk vendors’ means. The government has said that these ‘high risk vendors’ should be:
‘Limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 per cent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts.’
‘The recommended cap of 35 per cent will be kept under review to determine whether it should be further reduced as the market diversifies.’
If the UK is planning to bring this cap down year after year with the aim of having removed these ‘high risk vendors’ from the system in a decade or so then I think the controversy will die down. But if it appears that Huawei will be part of the system in perpetuity then the argument will continue and flare up every time the UK takes a soft line on Beijing’s behaviour.
Poor planning over the years left the government with a very difficult decision to take. It would have been better never to have let Huawei into the system in the first place: companies with close links to autocratic states should not be treated the same as firms from liberal democracies. But the government now needs a strategy for how to remove these ‘high risk vendors’ from the system as quickly as possible.