Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G networks prompted angry US politicians to compare the move to working with the KGB during the Cold War.
On Tuesday – despite huge pressure from Donald Trump to ban the Chinese firm amid spying fears – the National Security Council said it would give Huawei limited access to the network.
A number of Republican politicians slammed the move over concerns Huawei could be used by the Chinese to steal Western secrets.
“Allowing Huawei to build the UK’s 5G networks today is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War,” said Tom Cotton, a senator for Arkansas.
“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] will now have a foothold to conduct pervasive espionage… and has increased economic and political leverage over the United Kingdom.”
The UK has left the EU “only to cede sovereignty to Beijing”, Cotton added.
Meanwhile, another Republican senator, Ben Sasse, said the US special relationship with the UK “is less special now” after embracing “the surveillance state commies at Huawei”.
“During the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher never contracted with the KGB to save a few pennies,” he told the Washington Examiner.
“The Chinese Communist Party has infected Five Eyes with Huawei, right at a time when the US and UK must be unified in order to meet the global security challenges of China’s resurgence.”
Liz Cheney – the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives – tweeted: “By allowing Huawei into their 5G network,@BorisJohnson has chosen the surveillance state over the special relationship.
“Tragic to see our closest ally, a nation Ronald Reagan once called ‘incandescent with courage,’ turn away from our alliance and the cause of freedom.”
The UK said its decision to ban Huawei from supplying kit to the network’s sensitive ‘core’ protected national security while also delivering world-class connectivity.
It also argued that intelligence-sharing – including with the US-led ‘Five Eyes’ alliance – would not be jeopardised.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “How we construct our 5G and full fibre public telecoms networks has nothing to do with how we will share classified data.”
Britain’s most senior intelligence officials believe that they can manage any risk posed by Huawei, which has played a role in the UK’s 3G and 4G networks for more than a decade.
Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, said: “Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track.
“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”
On Tuesday evening, Downing Street confirmed that Johnson had spoken to Trump about the Huawei decision.
“The prime minister underlined the importance of like-minded countries working together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies,” a spokesperson for Number 10 said.