US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is “confident” that Britain and the US can work through their differences over Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Speaking ahead of talks in Downing Street with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Pompeo made clear that Washington still has deep reservations about the involvement of Chinese firms in Western telecoms systems.
However he indicated that the issue would not affect talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement, saying the UK is still at “the front of the line” for a deal.
Mr Johnson risked incurring the wrath of the Trump administration with the announcement on Tuesday that Britain would allow Huawei to play a limited role in building its 5G network.
Speaking alongside Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at a Policy Exchange event in London, Mr Pompeo said the US still believes that having Huawei technology within the network is “very difficult to mitigate” and “not worth the candle”.
He added however: “The decision was made on Tuesday. I’m confident we can work together to implement that decision and work to get this right.”
The US administration has previously threatened to end intelligence-sharing with any ally that allowed Huawei a role in its telecoms network.
It follows fears that the company could install a “back door” in its equipment which would enable the Chinese government to conduct espionage or mount cyber attacks.
Mr Pompeo again stressed that the US would not permit its security information to be transferred across any network it did not trust.
He said the concerns about Huawei were not just technical but related to its relationship with the Chinese state.
“This is about a model that the Chinese Communist Party has where they place requirements on these businesses that say ‘Thou shall – do’.
“There is not only a legal requirement, there is deep financial investment.
“You have senior leaders in these companies that are tied to the Chinese Communist Party.
“We think that is not about a technical back door, they have the front door.”
His warnings come as Tobias Ellwood MP, the newly-elected chair of the Commons defence committee, urged the Government to place a “time cap” on Huawei’s involvement with Britain’s 5G network due to security fears.
but Mr Raab said the decision by the National Security Council to allow Huawei to supply “non-core” elements of the system followed three years of security analysis.
“We think we have a targeted approach that protects our security, protects our relationship with our closest intelligence allies,” he said.
He added that in future the Government would be looking to replace “high-risk vendors” like Huawei with trusted suppliers as more firms enter the market.
Huawei is not the only issue where the UK and US are at odds.
Washington has threatened to retaliate with tariffs on the British car industry, if the Government goes ahead with a planned tax on big tech companies.
Meanwhile, the UK is pressing for the extradition of the wife of an American intelligence official charged with causing the death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn.
Nevertheless, Mr Pompeo said that, as Britain prepares to leave the EU on Friday, the “special relationship” between the UK and the US is in a “fantastic place”.
“The previous administration took the view that if the United Kingdom made this decision it would be at the back of the line. We intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line,” he said.
Mr Raab added: “If you have got deep friendship and you genuinely have a special relationship, you work through those issues.”
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