• U.S. officials have accused Huawei of espionage
  • U.K.'s decision in January to use Huawei gear stoked anger in Washington
  • Huawei said company is willing to hold talks with U.K. government.

The British government is considering the gradual elimination of components and equipment made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies from its 5G mobile networks in the wake of U.S. sanctions against the Shenzhen-based firm.

The decision appears to mark a sharp change in the London government’s stance on the controversial Chinese company which U.S. officials have accused of espionage.

In January, the U.K. government said Huawei would be involved in a limited manner in the development of Britain’s 5G networks – a move that was criticized by Washington, especially President Donald Trump, citing that Huawei poses serious security risks.

However, now a report from an arm of Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, revived security fears related to the use of Huawei technology.

After the U.S. imposed sanctions against Huawei in May, the British National Cyber Security Center, or NCSC, – a unit of GCHQ -- conducted an emergency review of Huawei. That report will be presented to Whitehall this week to be examined by senior government ministers.

“If the U.S. imposes sanctions, which they have done, we believe that could have a significant impact on the reliability of Huawei equipment and when we can use it safely,” Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said on Monday. “If it’s appropriate to change policy, we’ll clearly make a statement to the House of Commons when we’ve been through that and made a decision.”

Dowden also said the point of commissioning advice from NCSC was to understand the implications of the U.S. sanctions.

"Clearly the U.S. sanctions will present challenges and that is what that advice is about," he said. "We want to diversify away from these so-called high-risk vendors, of which Huawei is the principal one.. we want to be in a position where we don't have high-risk vendors in our networks at all.”

The NCSC report will reportedly state that U.S. sanctions on Huawei’s operations “will force the company to use untrusted technology that could increase the risk to the U.K.”

The British government could potentially ban the purchase of new Huawei equipment while removing its existing gear from its 5G networks perhaps by the end of this year.

Victor Zhang, vice president at Huawei, said the company is willing to hold talks with the U.K. government over the affair.

“All our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the U.K. government has strict oversight,” Zhang said. “Our technology is already extensively used in 5G networks across the country and has helped connect people throughout [the] lockdown.”

Zhang added: “We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed U.S. restrictions so the U.K. can maintain its current lead in 5G. We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position.”

Paul Harrison, head of international media at Huawei, defended the company, noting that Huawei had been in the British market for 20 years and had “helped telecom providers drive the U.K. to become a 5G global leader.”

“U.K. policy is being dictated by [the] Trump administration… Shouldn’t the U.S. respect a United Kingdom in the post-Brexit era being in a position to choose its own telecommunication strategy?,” he added.

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R.-Neb.) praised the British government’s possible policy change.

“[Chinese leader] Chairman Xi’s spy web isn’t going to like this, but good for the British government,” Sasse said. “Shared security interests are a major part of our special relationship with the [British], and the Chinese Communist Party’s tech puppet [Huawei] should not be allowed to sit on our closest ally’s networks.”

Sir John Sawers, the former head of U.K. intelligence agency MI6, also supports a ban on Huawei.

‘The security assessment is now different because the facts have changed,” Sawers said. “Reliable non-Chinese suppliers … can no longer work with the company… U.K. intelligence services can therefore no longer provide the needed assurances that Chinese-made equipment is still safe to use in the U.K.’s telecoms network… There are now sound technical reasons for the U.K. to change January’s decision.”

Lisa Nandy, the new shadow foreign secretary, said the U.K. needed “far greater strategic independence from China, which means that we need to have home-grown alternatives for our 5G network and our nuclear power.”