UK Telecommunications

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 14th July 2020.

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Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 12:50 pm, 14th July 2020

Well, well, well. Here we go again—another screeching handbrake turn. When we debated this in January, SNP Members warned the Government that Huawei could not be trusted with our 5G mobile network. Security experts were clear: we should not open up the central nervous system of our modern society to a company owned by the Chinese Communist party. With that characteristic combination of error and overconfidence, the Foreign Secretary opined that I had got my analysis wrong “on all counts”, but it seems not: less than six months later, we are witnessing yet another of the volte-faces that are fast becoming a hallmark of this Government. Small wonder, then, that Ministers and Back Benchers are reluctant to be wheeled out in defence of a Government policy on Monday, knowing that they could be required to argue the polar opposite on Tuesday.

Of course it is right that Huawei should be banned from the UK’s mobile networks, but that is a decision that should have been taken long ago. As I said to the Foreign Secretary in January, had the Government acted in 2018 as the Australians did, our mobile operators’ 5G roll-out plans would have been in an infinitely healthier place. As it is, we will now pay the price for the Government’s ineptitude. We know it, the Secretary of State knows it and increasingly restive Tory Back Benchers know it, so how was it that the Prime Minister thought that China and Huawei could be trusted, or at least managed, in January, but not now in July? Was it that a Brexit Britain was too weak and isolated to upset the world’s second largest economic powerhouse, but that the Government have now been forced to acknowledge that they cannot sacrifice our national security even for Brexit?

Countering the intelligence threat posed by China will require more than just the phase-out of Huawei. It will involve a rethink of our investment in native companies. We must now also work to protect our 999 emergency services network from the fall-out of this decision. Will the Secretary of State outline how exactly he will do so?

We welcome this climbdown. What will the Secretary of State now do, after all the Government’s mistakes, to help us to catch up?