By Kate Ferguson, Senior Political Correspondent
Mail Online – 27 December 2018
- Tory MPs Julian Lewis and Bob Seely call for Chinese firm Huawei to be banned
- Defence Secretary said China's involvement in 5G must be watched very closely
- Australia and New Zealand have both banned Huawei from providing 5G to them
Senior MPs today called for Britain to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from working on the 5G mobile internet upgrade amid fears of cyber espionage.
Julian Lewis and Bob Seely urged the Government to follow its Five Eyes intelligence partners Australia and New Zealand and stop the firm from working on critical infrastructure projects. Huawei is one of the companies which has developed the 5G technology, but there are fears it could be used by China to hack into companies and even spy on Britons.
Dr Lewis, Tory MP and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said ministers were warned of the dangers of Huawei a decade ago and there is “no excuse” for ignoring them. He told Mail Online:
“What we have to remember is despite their protestations of independence, there is no such thing as an independent enterprise under a Communist regime.
And until such time as China ceases to be a dictatorship of the Communist party in China then there can be no meaningful claim to independence by enterprises.
We should definitely follow Australia's and New Zealand's example.”
And Mr Seely, a Tory MP and defence expert, warned China may be able to discover the UK's vulnerabilities if its firms are given the crucial contracts.
Their intervention comes after Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he had “grave concerns” about Huawei. Huawei strongly denies any suggestion that it could be used as a backdoor for the Chinese state to glean secrets from Britain.
Britain and its allies have become increasingly alarmed at the growing cyber espionage threat posed by China. And last week Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt took the remarkable step of publicly blaming China for being behind hacks on UK companies to steal commercial secrets. Two of Britain's closest allies, New Zealand and Australia – who along with the UK, Canada and the US are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – have banned the Chinese firm amid national security fears. And there is growing pressure on Theresa May to follow their lead and do the same.
Dr Lewis pointed out that ministers were warned as long ago as 2005/2006 about the dangers of letting Huawei work on vital infrastructure projects in the UK when it bid for a BT contract. A report into the controversy by the Intelligence and Security Committee of MPs – which can see classified information – in 2013 blasted the lack to safeguards to protect vital infrastructure projects from foreign state actors.
Dr Lewis said that five years on from that report, Britain risks repeating the mistake by again letting Huawei take part in a sensitive project. He said:
“Since at least 2013 they [ministers] have had no excuse for being unaware of the dangers of involving corporations of state adversaries in critical infrastructure of this character.
They have been warned time and time again.”
Dr Lewis said Chinese companies have benefited from lots of Western technological advances which they have gained access to via dubious means. This saves them billions in research and development – allowing them to undercut Western firms in bidding for technology contracts such as the 5G upgrade, he said.
The Tory MP said this creates a “vicious cycle” which allows Chinese firms to win contracts which they can then, potentially, glean new sensitive and secret information from. He said:
“At some point we need to break that cycle.”
“There is a classic statement by Lenin – the architect of the 1917 Russian revolution – the West will sell us the rope with which to hang them.
And this is a perfect example of a continuing reliance of that cynical prediction, because Communist regimes are only too well aware of the vulnerabilities in the competitive capitalist system to strike good commercial deals.
But this is a commercial deal that serves the interests of an advanced power that has interests that are not ours.”
Similar warnings were voiced by Mr Seely, a Tory MP and expert and cyber security and defence. He praised the Defence Secretary for warning of the dangers of letting Chinese firms take the reins on the critical projects, with all the confidential information that would give them. He told Mail Online:
“Gavin Williamson is right to be concerned. More of our political leaders should be thinking about the problems of cyber security. Several allied states around the world, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, have blocked the use of Huawei technology in their critical infrastructure due to the company's close links to the Chinese military.nTheir actions are sensible precautions, not overreactions. Should Britain do the same? Yes we should.”
“Cyber infiltration is about finding vulnerabilities in our systems to gain power or potential power over the state in times of conflict or threat. We need to make sure our own systems, in the energy grid, in the NHS, in Defence and Security are robust to be able to operate. We need to have confidence in them.”
Nia Griffith MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, said:
“It is not good enough for Conservative Ministers simply to express concern about very serious potential cyberthreats. Warm words won't protect our critical infrastructure from cyberattack.
The Government has a responsibility to make sure that any multinational which operates in the U.K. is abiding by the highest standards. If there are credible allegations of wrongdoing then the government should take action immediately.”
Their interventions come after Mr Williamson took the unusual step of voicing his “grave concerns” at Huawei being given the sensitive contract. Mr Williamson said:
“I have grave, very deep concerns about Huawei providing the 5G network in Britain. It's something we'd have to look at very closely.
We've got to look at what partners such as Australia and the US are doing in order to ensure that they have the maximum security of that 5G network and we've got to recognise the fact, as has been recently exposed, the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way.”
China is currently a world leader in developing the next-generation mobile internet technology that promises to deliver much faster download speeds. But Australia and New Zealand have both recently banned Huawei from providing 5G equipment on national security grounds. The Australian government said there were concerns about the country's internet networks being provided by companies
“likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government”.
The technology, which will supersede 4G, could speed up the creation of 'smart cities' with linked networks of everything from traffic signals to driverless cars.
Earlier this month, in a rare public appearance, the head of MI6 said Britain will have to decide how “comfortable” it would be with the Chinese owning its future 5G infrastructure.
Alex Younger said:
“We've got some decisions to take. This is about how 5G will, by and large, be based on Chinese technology. We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position.”
A spokesperson for Huawei said:
“Cybersecurity is Huawei's number one priority, and an area in which we are investing heavily.
We fully agree with the need to ensure the security and integrity of national networks. As a responsible company and as a significant investor in the UK, we welcome dialogue with the British government and with the rest of the industry, as long as it is based on facts and on demonstrable evidence.
Huawei is a global leader in 5G technology, providing customers with access to a new generation in mobile internet capabilities in many different countries around the world. We have operated in the UK since 2001, partnering with all of the leading UK telecoms providers. Our innovative, industry-leading products can help the UK maintain global leadership in 5G for the long-term benefit of consumers, businesses and the British economy.”
The Government has talked up the so-called “diamond era” in relations between Britain and China in recent years. But the relationship has come under major strain in recent months as the UK has blamed China for cyber hacking to steal commercial secrets in Britain.
Earlier this month, Mr Hunt blamed Beijing for the “one of the most significant” cyber attacks ever made against the UK and its allies. The “sustained” campaign has tried to steal secrets from global companies based in Europe, Asia and the United States.
British spies have assessed “with the highest level of probability” that China is to blame for the hacking of corporate giants – warning the attempts to breach security are ”almost certainly” continuing. Mr Hunt demanded the Chinese offensive action “stop”, warning they breach international agreements made at the G20. A group called APT10 that is linked to the China's Ministry of State Security is responsible for the attacks, Mr Hunt said.