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US warns UK over 'momentous' Huawei decision

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the open a regional counter-terrorism meeting at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia on January 20, 2020. Photo: Daniel Garzon Herazo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The United States Secretary of State has publicly warned the UK not to allow Chinese telecoms company Huawei to work on its 5G infrastructure.

Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Sunday night the UK faced a “momentous” decision that risked its sovereignty.

Pompeo quoted a tweet from Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who warned that Britain would face a “real cost” to its “sovereignty” if Huawei was allowed to work on 5G. Tugendhat, who is seeking re-election as the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said in a separate tweet the UK would “hand control to Beijing” if Huawei was cleared.

“British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: ‘The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign’,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

READ MORE: UK officials formally recommend ‘limited’ role for Huawei in 5G networks

The public intervention by Pompeo extends a lobbying campaign by the US to prevent the UK working with Huawei. US officials are concerned Huawei’s involvement in 5G could allow the Chinese government to spy on sensitive communications.

The UK is part of the so-called ‘five eyes’ intelligence sharing group, made up of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. The five countries share sensitive national security and threat information, leading to fears that any compromise within one member state could endanger the security of all parties.

Huawei is thought to have close links to the Chinese state and US officials believe it could be easily compromised. US President Donald Trump described Huawei as a “security risk” at a NATO summit in December and officials presented a dossier of concerns to British officials earlier this month. The US placed Huawei on a sanctions list last years.

“If you look at the role of technology, it is critical that we have infrastructure that is protected,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said during in a speech in London on Saturday.

READ MORE: US-China battle on Huawei could lead to a 'splinternet'

Despite the pressure, UK appears poised to approve a limited role for working on the 5G network, with a decision due on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC earlier this month: “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us which is the alternative?”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Sunday during an interview with Sky: “We are having discussions, and rightly so, and those discussions remain at the National Security Council level and within-Cabinet level.”

Former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt raised concerns Monday, telling the BBC’s Today Programme: “I always wondered whether it was wise to allow ourselves to become technologically dependent on another country, whichever country, for something as critical as 5G technology.”