By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network on Tuesday, a momentous move that will delight Washington, dismay Beijing and mark the end of a two-decade partnership with the country’s largest mobile phone operator.
The United States pushed Johnson to reverse his January decision to give Huawei a limited role in 5G, saying the Chinese company poses a security risk.
The debate took place against a backdrop of repression in Hong Kong and questions about China’s management of coronaviruses, which is damaging relations between London and Beijing.
The British National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Johnson, will meet Tuesday morning to discuss Huawei. Media Secretary Oliver Dowden will then announce a decision in the House of Commons later in the day.
The immediate excuse for this “U-turn” policy is the impact of the new US sanctions on chip technology, which, according to London, affects Huawei’s ability to remain a reliable supplier.
Huawei and its customers, which include BT, Vodafone (NASDAQ:) and Three, are waiting to see the scale of the new ban and how quickly it will be implemented, with hundreds of millions of pounds at stake.
BT boss Philip Jansen said Monday that the company needed at least five years, and ideally seven, to eliminate Huawei.
“If we get to a situation where things have to go very, very fast, then you’re in a situation where the potential service for 24 million BT Group (LON:) mobile customers is being called into question – outages,” he said.
If the ban were extended to all mobile and fixed-line networks, including older equipment, it would take more than a decade, he said.
Vodafone said removing all equipment from Huawei would cost it “billions of pounds”.
Huawei, who has consistently denied US claims that he could spy for Beijing, said the implications of the sanctions are not yet clear, and urged Britain to wait.
China has indicated that banning one of its flagship global technology companies would have far-reaching ramifications.
Its ambassador to Britain said a turnaround on Huawei would damage Britain’s image and that it would have to “bear the consequences” if it treated China as a hostile country.
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