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Boris Johnson to reduce Huawei’s role in Britain’s 5G network in the wake of coronavirus outbreak

The Prime Minister plans to reduce Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the Telegraph has learned.

Boris Johnson has instructed officials to draw up plans that would see China’s involvement in the UK’s infrastructure scaled down to zero by 2023.

It comes as Mr Johnson is poised to visit the US for the G7 summit next month in his first trip abroad since the crisis began.

Having called for the UK to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on China for goods, he is expected to ramp up trade talks with US President Donald Trump as Brexit negotiations with the EU have become increasingly fractious.

The rethinking of the Huawei deal follows a growing backlash among Tory MPs against Chinese investment following the global pandemic, which originated in Wuhan. 

The Communist state has been accused of covering up the initial scale of the infection while Chinese hackers are suspected of breaking into US Covid-19 research. A recent cyber attack which exposed the data of around nine million easyJet customers has been also linked to Beijing. 

There is mounting suspicion in the West over Beijing’s repeated attempts to leverage economic advantage from the disaster. 

Conservative MPs had previously liked Huawei to “heroin” and argued the “rushed” deal had angered allies and left Britain “utterly friendless” after members of the Five Eyes alliance raised fears over spying. 

Insiders have told the Telegraph Mr Johnson always had “serious concerns” about the 5G agreement, which was brokered by Theresa May’s government, but signed off by her successor in January.

A well-placed source said: “He still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back. Officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s involvement as quickly as possible. 

“He has taken a great many soundings from his own MPs on this issue and shares their serious concerns. The deal was struck before the pandemic hit but coronavirus has changed everything.”

The revelation came as Downing Street revealed ministers were in close contact with Washington over President Trump’s proposals to hold a number of G7 sessions at the White House and Camp David from June 10-13. 

The Commander-in-chief has been highly critical of the UK’s decision to allow Huawei to build 35 per cent of its network, despite Britain branding the Shenzhen-based telecoms giant a “high risk vendor”. 

He threatened to restrict Britain’s access to Five Eyes intelligence which is gathered and shared by the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, following what was described as an “apoplectic” phone call with the Prime Minister over the deal in February. Mike Pence, US vice-president, said afterwards that the Huawei decision that the Trump administration had made its disappointment at the UK decision “very clear to them”. 

President Trump has led the global outcry over China’s role in the coronavirus crisis, accusing authorities of manipulating information and failing to adequately warn other countries about its deadly nature.

In its latest power grab, China on Friday set in motion a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing its lawmakers, in a move seen as an attempt to stifle the city’s special freedoms. The UK, Australia and Canada released a joint statement condemning the move, saying it undermined the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy. 

It came amid escalating fears the socialist superpower is seeking to assert its influence by buying up companies at risk of going bankrupt due to the crisis. 

Mr Johnson flagged new measures to protect British technology in the wake of coronavirus during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Asked by Conservative MP Richard Drax if the UK should copy France’s review of defence supply chains, the PM replied: “He is absolutely right to be concerned about investment, to be concerned about the buying up of UK technology by countries that … may have ulterior motives.

“And we are certainly bringing forward measures to ensure that we protect our technological base and … you’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the next few weeks.”

Reports later emerged that Mr Johnson wants the UK to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on China for supplies and goods.

His spokesman said on Friday that the aim was to shore up the resilience of the country’s international supply chains.

“We’re looking at making sure that we have resilient supply chains around the world. The first bit of the work is going on separately, so we are significantly increasing the domestic production of PPE…in another field we have significantly increased our testing capability and so on.”

The plans are being led by the permanent secretary of the Department for International Trade, who is reporting directly to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Before the pandemic hit, MPs mounted a significant rebellion in the Commons which saw 36 Tories cross the floor on a Huawei-amendment attached to an unrelated bill in March.

The amendment, tabled by former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and supported by former ministers David Davis, Damian Green and Owen Paterson, called on the Government to eliminate all Huawei technology from the UK’s mobile phone networks by the end of 2022.

Just 13 more MPs would have been needed to change the Telecommunications Security Bill  when it is put to the Commons, as has been promised in the next two months. Many more MPs voiced their support for the rebels but not their tactic of pushing it to a vote on an unrelated bill – making the possibility of a Government defeat a real possibility.

In March, Sir Mike Rake, the former chairman of BT and now a non-executive director of Huawei, warned Mr Johnson in an open letter that any attempt to “further restrict Huawei 5G equipment, or to remove existing 4G equipment will not only incur very significant costs, but prejudice trade relationships with China and will significantly set back the Government’s broadband ambitions.”

It came after junior culture minister Matt Warman said during a Westminster Hall debate the government was committed to a phase-out of Chinese kit. 

Last month, a caucus of Tories, many of them newly elected in Mr Johnson’s December landslide, have formed a China research group, similar to the Brexit-backing Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) to examine the “rise of China”. 

Announcing its launch last month, its head Tom Tughendhat, who is also chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “Beijing’s long pattern of information suppression has contributed to the unfolding crisis. The (Chinese Communist) Party are now using the current emergency to build influence around the world.”

Last night, Sir Iain welcomed Mr Johnson’s decision to review the Huawei deal saying: “This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China.”  

Downing Street declined to comment. 

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