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British Parliament narrowly votes down measure to phase out Huawei from networks

British Parliament narrowly votes down measure to phase out Huawei from networks

The United Kingdom’s House of Commons on Tuesday narrowly voted down a measure that would have effectively phased equipment made by Chinese telecom group Huawei out of British 5G networks by the end of 2022. 

Members of Parliament (MPs) voted down an amendment to a telecommunications bill by a vote of 306-282 that would have banned use of equipment from groups deemed “high risk” by the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre.

Huawei, which has been effectively blacklisted in the U.S. over Chinese espionage concerns, was previously classified as high risk. Huawei has consistently pushed back against national security concerns brought up against it. 

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Almost two dozen MPs from the Conservative Party signed on to the amendment, which was a direct challenge to the decision in January by the U.K.’s National Security Council (NSC) to allow Huawei equipment to be used in “periphery” portions of telecom networks, though not in “core” networks. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed the NSC’s decision on Huawei, with the vote on Tuesday seen as a challenge by members of his own party against his stance on the company.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, the lead sponsor of the amendment and the former leader of the British Conservative Party, pointed to concerns over endangering intelligence sharing with allied countries that are part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network, including the United States. 

“We have no friends out there anymore on this issue, the Canadians, the Australians, the Americans, the New Zealanders, they all disagree with us,” Duncan Smith said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “No matter how intelligent, brilliant, and great our intelligence and cybersecurity services are, it’s very simply this, how is it that we are right and everybody else is wrong?”

Duncan Smith tweeted following the vote that a separate bill set to be debated by the House of Commons this summer will likely gain enough support from the Conservative Party to ensure Huawei is “eradicated from our 5G network.”

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Oliver Dowden, the British secretary of state for digital culture, media and sport, said during the debate that he understood the concerns of MPs about Huawei. 

“In an ideal world there would be no need for any high-risk vendors at all,” Dowden said. “We have to ensure that we have developed the supply chain capacity ... there is a lack of capacity on the supply side right now.”

The decision by the House of Commons will likely lead to further tension with the Trump administration and Congress over the issue of Huawei. A senior White House official told The Hill following the NSC’s decision that they were “disappointed” in the U.K. 

Many bipartisan members of government raised extreme concerns about continued intelligence sharing with the U.K. in January. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseRepublican senators and courage The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Neb.), and a bipartisan group of almost two dozen other senators more recently sent a letter to British Parliament last week urging them to fully reject Huawei.

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“Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision, take steps to mitigate the risks of Huawei, and work in close partnership with the U.S. on such efforts going forward,” the senators wrote.

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulCheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency US ambassador to Israel Twitter account briefly includes West Bank, Gaza Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, went a step further on Monday, when he warned of consequences if the U.K. voted to retain Huawei equipment in its networks.

“As the Trump administration has made clear, there will be real world consequences including complicating intelligence sharing and trade talks,” McCaul wrote in a letter to British MP Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the House of Commons’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “I can personally relate that negative repercussions will be manifest in Congress too.”

McCaul told The Hill following the vote that he was "hopeful that the UK parliament will ultimately reverse course and safeguard their telecommunications network and our mutual security interests" from Huawei. 

Some steps have already been taken on Capitol Hill to punish the U.K. for retaining Huawei equipment in its networks. 

McCaul and a group of House Republicans introduced a resolution in February condemning the U.K.’s use of Huawei equipment, while a group of Senate Republicans introduced a bill last week to review Britain’s good standing under the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. 

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (R-Ark.), the Senate bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement that “the United States values its special relationship with the U.K., but allowing Huawei into Britain’s 5G infrastructure will have consequences across several sectors. Ultimately, protecting U.S. trade secrets from the Chinese Communist Party is our top priority.”