Four former cabinet ministers are among a group of Conservative MPs who have signed a letter raising concerns about the government’s decision to allow Huawei a role in building the UK’s 5G network.
In the letter, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, David Davis and Damian Green call for “high-risk” vendors to be ruled out now, or phased out over time.
It has also been signed by the new chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, and Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely.
The six men say they want the government to “rule out hi-tech from untrusted, high-risk vendors”, or to ensure there are “sunset clauses” to limit the length of time such companies can be used.
“We are seeking to identify a means by which we ensure that only trusted vendors are allowed as primary contractors into our critical national infrastructure,” they say.
Mr Ellwood told Sky News that the way in which China has handled the deadly coronavirus “shows the sort of country we are dealing with”.
He added: “A full three or four weeks passed before they actually clamped down on the city of Wuhan, but in that time five million people managed to leave before a curfew was placed.”
The Tory MP for Bournemouth East also suggested there were many unanswered questions about the Chinese firm.
He continued: “We don’t know the extent to which Huawei is obliged to provide information to the Chinese authorities, by law they have to do so.
“We don’t know the connections between the intelligence services and Huawei, and it isn’t just Huawei, it’s China Telecom, it’s Tencent, Alibaba – all these companies are obliged to have a very different relationship to the state, to the Communist Party of China, than we have over here.”
Sir Iain told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is real concern across the floor of the House. I think there is a lot of disquiet over this.”
He added: “The truth is if they are not a trusted vendor, if, as the foreign secretary said at the despatch box, that China is considered to be an aggressor in these matters, they are constantly attacking our systems alongside Russia.
“They claim that Russia is an aggressor, but they won’t have anything to do with Russian technology – then surely the same principle must apply to China.
“And, I think, therefore, we need to get the government to look to get the involvement of Huawei, not to 35%, but to zero,” he added.
“We are turning out to be the mugs in this game.”
The government has said Huawei would be limited to involvement in 35% of the network and kept away from sensitive areas.
The letter come as US vice president Mike Pence suggested the decision by Boris Johnson to allow Huawei a limited role in 5G roll-out could jeopardise a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and America.
Pressed on whether the Huawei decision could be a deal breaker in Brexit trade talks, Mr Pence told CNBC: “We’ll see. We’ll see if it is.
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He added: “We are profoundly disappointed because, look, when I went at the president’s direction in September, I met with Prime Minister Johnson and I told him the moment the UK is out of Brexit we were willing to begin to negotiate a free trade arrangement with the UK.
“But we just don’t believe that utilising the assets, the technology of Huawei is consistent with the security or privacy interests of the UK, of the United States, and it remains a real issue between our two countries.”
His remarks follow claims Donald Trump had vented “apoplectic” rage at the prime minister during a recent heated phone conversation with him about the 5G move.