The Government has delayed its plan to remove Huawei from Britain’s telecoms network by six months, blaming Covid.
Ministers had intended on cutting the share of Huawei equipment to 35pc of the full fibre and 5G access networks by January next year, following concerns that its equipment could be used by China for espionage or to disrupt the UK’s critical national infrastructure.
However, on Friday night the Government said the deadline had been pushed back to July 31 2023, “due to the difficulties providers have faced during the pandemic”.
It comes as the Government launched a consultation with telecoms firms on proposed legal instruments to mandate the removal of all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by the end of 2027.
However, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader and head of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, warned that “lengthening the time that allows the Government to get rid of Huawei, even in interim measures, increases the threat to the United Kingdom”.
The Government had pledged to remove all Huawei equipment from the UK’s 5G networks by 2027.
Sir Iain said: “The Government must now make it very clear that they are not moving the 2027 deadline.
“To do so would be to renege on a commitment. After all, Huawei is now seen clearly as a threat to our security so any delay increases the threat.”
Sir Iain called on the Government to “now explain itself to the House of Commons next week”.
“It is not acceptable that they delay this on a Friday afternoon. They must now do so on Monday. They must guarantee 2027 exists and stays as the deadline.”
Bob Seely, a senior Tory MP who sits on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said the decision to delay was "disappointing".
He said: "DCMS needs to say why [the delay has happened] and reassure us that this ban will be instigated in a timely way. We’ve made the right decision and now we need to get on with it. We need to be taking a robust line to ensure the security of critical national infrastructure."
Huawei has been accused of posing a security risk by the US Government and a number of Conservative MPs, something it has always denied.
Earlier this month Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, called on Guto Harri, the Prime Minister’s new director of communications, to declare any recent contact with Huawei and confirm he supports banning the Chinese firm from Britain’s 5G network.
The intervention followed reports that Mr Harri had previously lobbied for Huawei.
Telecoms providers have begun to remove Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks. As part of the next step, the Government is to consult industry on proposed measures to legally formalise the controls on Huawei.
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, said: “The Government is committed to ensuring the security and resilience of our phone and internet networks.
“Last year we brought in new laws to protect UK infrastructure from high-risk vendors and issue tough sanctions on providers which fall short of our high security standards. This consultation marks the next step in removing the risks posed by Huawei.”
The Government insisted that the consultation is not expected to impact the roll out of faster broadband, and said that the telecoms industry remains committed to the Government’s target of bringing gigabit broadband to at least 85pc of the UK by 2025.
A Huawei spokesperson said: “We note the Government’s consultation and will continue to support our UK customers with our network equipment, which is recognised as being among the most secure and trusted in the world.
“Political pressures have already forced the Government to exclude Huawei from 5G, delaying its rollout by several years. These same pressures will jeopardise the rollout of fibre broadband, unnecessarily pushing up costs for businesses and families.
“The country has the right to expect decisions to be made based on facts rather than unfounded security concerns.”