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US warns Britain's sovereignty in jeopardy over Huawei deal amid pressure on Boris Johnson to change course

Lizzy Buchan
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo participates in a press conference with Indian ministers: AFP/Getty

Britain's sovereignty will be in jeopardy if it allows Chinese tech giant Huawei to build its 5G network, Donald Trump's Secretary of State has warned.

In an escalation of pressure on Boris Johnson, Mike Pompeo said the UK had a "momentous" decision to make this week over whether to allow Huawei to form part of the UK's 5G infrastructure.

The prime minister is on a collision course with Mr Trump's administration over the Chinese telecoms giant - which the US has banned from its 5G networks over potential security risks and urged allies to do the same.

Ministers are expected to make a decision on Huawei at a crunch meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday, with reports emerging that Mr Johnson is poised to allow Huawei restricted access to the UK's network.

The tensions come just days before post-Brexit trade talks were due to begin, prompting fears over the impact of a row with Mr Trump on a crucial trade deal with the US.

Mr Pompeo, who will visit the UK this week, wrote on Twitter: "The UK has a momentous decision ahead on 5G.

"British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: 'The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign'."

He pointed to comments by the Conservative former chair of the foreign affairs committee, who has spoken out against allowing Huawei access to super-fast 5G network.

Mr Tugendhat said: "Sovereignty means control of data as much as land.

"We need to decide what we're willing to invest in and who were willing to share our tech with.

"The real costs will come later if we get this wrong and allow Huawei to run 5G."

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, warned against the UK becoming "dependent" on the Chinese company for something so vital.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I must admit 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.

"That is my view, but I would say if the decision goes the other way this week, as some of the signs seem to indicate it might, I hope there will also be some reflection in the US because we have never needed the Western alliance to be stronger than now."

But Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, said the government would not bow to outside pressure and it would take a decision in the UK's national interest.

"The decision we make will be based upon our own sovereign right to choose. It's Britain that will have to live with the consequences of that," he told the BBC's Westminster Hour.

"There are risks but we will make an informed decision based on the evidence and we will do so in an autonomous way."

Peter Ricketts, a crossbench peer and former national security adviser, said the risk is being blown out of proportion.

"I'm quite sure, knowing the intelligence community well, that they won't be recommending to ministers, the course of action that is likely to mess up our intelligence relationship with the US or prejudice UK security.

"I personally think we can find a solution which does allow them to have some role and which doesn't send the Americans off the other side of the diving board."

Mr Pompeo will meet Mr Johnson and Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, on a trip to London this week.

Mr Johnson discussed the security of telecommunications networks in a phone call Mr Trump last week, according to the White House.

Last year, the US imposed trade restrictions on Huawei over concerns about the company's security and ties to the Chinese government.

Allegations that their telecommunications equipment could be used to spy on people has been repeatedly denied by the tech giant.​

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