Nicky Morgan. Picture: REUTERS/NEIL HALL
Nicky Morgan. Picture: REUTERS/NEIL HALL

London — The UK’s decision to allow China’s Huawei Technologies to be involved in building its 5G telecom networks will not affect trans-Atlantic intelligence sharing, despite US threats to the contrary, says digital secretary Nicky Morgan. 

Britain gave the green light on Tuesday for Huawei kit to be used in non-sensitive parts of its new networks, ending a protracted debate. In the run-up to the decision, there was a steady drumbeat of warnings from President Donald Trump’s administration that the US may hold back secret intelligence if Prime Minster Boris Johnson pressed ahead with giving the company a role.

Asked in a Bloomberg television interview whether she’d had assurances before the decision to include Huawei — deemed a high-risk vendor, Morgan said: “Yes, we’ve obviously had a lot of advice from our various security agencies about that,” before adding there was “no reason the decision should or would affect our ability to share classified data with the US or our allies.”

US secretary of state Michael Pompeo, who was among officials to warn Britain ahead of the decision, was in London on Wednesday and was likely to raise the issue in meetings with ministers. A slew of US congressional figures have already criticised the UK’s position, and Johnson and Trump spoke about the issue on Tuesday evening, with the premier underlining the need for Western allies to work together to break the market dominance of a small number of companies.

“I know that there are very strong feelings in the US, particularly in relation to China, but there are many, many areas where we co-operate very fully in lots of different ways with the US, and I think that special relationship will remain,” Morgan said on Wednesday.

“We would like eventually to have more providers to work with the US and other countries creating or supporting companies to have this capability,” she said, “so we don’t have to rely on high-risk vendors in the future.”

With Ericsson and Nokia the only options, Huawei’s involvement is needed to ensure the networks are resilient because “we would never want to rely just on two vendors”, Morgan said.

“That’s why a third provider is necessary,” she said. “At the moment it’s deemed to be Huawei; it’s a high-risk vendor, but hopefully the market will respond to calls for more diversification so we will have a better choice in the future.”

Morgan, who earlier told LBC Radio that the National Security Council decision on Huawei was “unanimous”, pointed out that the UK has monitored the Chinese company’s involvement in UK telecom networks for years and is “clear-eyed” about the risk. That, she said, informed the decision to keep the company out of core networks and sensitive locations and limit them to a 35% share of the market.

“We know more about Huawei, the way they operate, their capabilities, than any other country, which means we are confident we can mitigate the risk,” Morgan said. “We would not make the decision if we thought that it compromised national security at all.”