Boris Johnson warned not to 'let the fox into the hen house' with Huawei decision

Alan McGuinness, political reporter

Boris Johnson has been warned not to "let the fox into the hen house" by allowing Huawei a role in Britain's 5G infrastructure.

Tom Tugendhat, who was chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the last parliament, told Kay Burley@Breakfast that the telecoms firm was "integrally part of the Chinese state".

A looming decision on what role, if any, Huawei will play in Britain's 5G networks is expected soon.

There have been warnings from some quarters that allowing Huawei access to the UK's critical communications network would pose a risk to national security.

The US has warned Britain that doing so would be "nothing short of madness".

Senior officials in Washington have repeatedly stated that the Trump administration would reassess intelligence sharing with the UK in light of such a move.

Mr Tugendhat, who is running again to be chair of the committee in the new parliament, has also voiced his concerns.

"It's integrally part of the Chinese state," he told Sky News.

"And that's fine, that's what a Chinese state company would do as you would expect.

"But it's also got a foreign element that sells 5G and 4G and many other forms of technology as well around the world.

"The problem that we've got is that it's becoming so market dominant that it's not just a question of spying today, we can broadly speaking do a lot to mitigate that.

"But it's a question of finding ourselves in a few years time where it's got such a hold of the market that actually companies like Nokia Ericsson just fall away and are simply unable to compete."

In light of the concerns that have been expressed, the head of MI5 has said he does not expect Britain's relationship with the US to suffer if Huawei is granted a role.

When it was put to him that the security concerns could be mitigated, Mr Tugendhat responded: "I'm not a security expert, but I'm perfectly prepared to believe that GCHQ are extremely competent and able to mitigate the security concerns.

"But as ever with these different programmes the patching, the updating of the system, is just as important as the installing.

"Every time you patch, every time you update you've got to go through hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of lines of code in order to make sure nothing creeps in.

"For me this is a little bit like a guarding exercise."

He added: "Of course you can individually guard every chicken, but isn't it better not to let the fox into the hen house in the first place?"

Mr Tugendhat said Britain should look at companies like Samsung, Fujitsu, Nokia Ericsson and Cisco and "try and partner with them".

Huawei's most senior executive in the UK told Sky News in December he was optimistic the UK would not exclude the company from the rollout of 5G services.

Victor Zhang, Huawei's president for global government affairs, said: "I am very confident that the UK will choose Huawei because the UK always takes an evidence and facts-based approach and that the decision-making will be based on the nation's long-term interest and to satisfy society and the benefit of all consumers.

"Huawei have been here in the UK for more than 18 years and trust has been built with our customers and with the UK government through our openness and transparency."