The Culture Secretary is poised to announce a 2025 deadline to strip Huawei from the UK’s 5G network.
On Tuesday, Oliver Dowden will make a statement in the House of Commons where he will discuss the future of the Chinese giant in Britain’s telecoms infrastructure.
Ministers have indicated that they want Huawei’s hardware removed from the network within five years.
Tory MPs have pressed Boris Johnson to speed up the process to 2023. However, BT and Vodafone warned of widespread mobile phone blackouts unless they were given at least five years to strip out Huawei kit.
Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK head of network, urged that any further restrictions “look at a sensible and practically feasible timescale over several years”, while she cautioned that it would cost “single figure billions” of pounds to remove the equipment.
The original deadline for removing Huawei was 2029 but Tory rebels threatened to defeat the Government in the Commons by voting against legislation setting out the timetable. They indicated they would be prepared to compromise a date that would mean the work would be mostly completed by the time of the next election.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative leader and one of the 60-strong group of Tory backbench MPs demanding a complete ban on Huawei in UK infrastructure, told this newspaper a “material change” would be needed.
“It’s going to take them a while to get it out,” he said, “but 2029 won’t be acceptable. It may be 2025 but they will have to come forward with a timescale otherwise the Bill will be rejected.”
The need to act on Huawei became more urgent after the US imposed a trade embargo on microchips being sold to the firm.
The US decision is due to be reviewed next week, though the Trump administration is not expected to lift the trade sanctions.
Huawei has urged the UK Government to wait until it knows the outcome of the US review before it decides.
On Friday the Prime Minister admitted that he would have to address the question of how US sanctions affect Huawei in the UK.
Asked during a People’s Prime Minister’s Questions session if China should be allowed to build nuclear power stations, the Prime Minister said he was not a “natural Sinophobe”, and cautioned that while he wanted to “engage with China” the UK needed to protect its critical infrastructure.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We continue the ongoing process that the National Cyber Security Centre are looking at.”
Number 10 would not confirm whether the National Security Council would meet on the day the Huawei announcement is expected.
Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, said that while he commended the British Government for having “finally started to see sense on Huawei”, he cautioned that “when it comes to critical infrastructure, one weakness can jeopardise a whole network”.
Victor Zhang, Huawei vice president, said: “Huawei’s main priority has always been to provide the mobile networks with world-leading technology so they can keep the British people connected 24/7, especially during this difficult time. The UK Government should not make a hasty decision without all of the evidence. The 5G decision is vital to the UK’s ‘Gigabit’ strategy and the future of its digital economy.”