Given how hard Washington had been lobbying the UK government against allowing Huawei to have any role in the UK’s 5G network, there was a certain nervousness in Whitehall about the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to London this week. But judging by Pompeo’s appearance with Dominic Raab at Policy Exchange there was no need to worry.
Pompeo declared that the UK/US relationship was in a ‘fantastic place’. He largely pulled his punches on Huawei. He emphasised the US’s view that the ‘Chinese Communist Party is the central threat of our times’ but he implied the US thought the UK’s eventual plan was to move away from Huawei kit. Raab indicated that direction of travel when he said that in future the UK should be looking to replace ‘high risk vendors’ (eg Huawei) with ‘high trust ones’.
On Brexit, Pompeo was bullish. He said he had told Boris Johnson he wanted to be here for Brexit day, but the Prime Minister said the 31st would be a bit busy so why didn’t he come the day before. He predicted that it would bring ‘enormous benefits’ to both the UK and the US. He said the UK had been sent to the front of the line for a trade deal and backed the idea that it could be done before the presidential election this November—a break-neck timetable. He was also keen to stress that he didn’t see a UK deal with the EU as precluding one with the US or vice-versa.
Raab and Pompeo were keen to stress how the UK and the US overall aims were the same, even if they disagreed on tactics as they do over Iran. But what was most striking about this event was how terrorism, which would have dominated the discussion even a few years ago, has fallen down the agenda to be replaced by the more traditional challenge posed by rival states. The US now regards China as the most significant strategic threat and wants its allies to come to the same conclusion.