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Johnson: Huawei critics 'must tell us what's the alternative'

Kate Proctor Political correspondent

Boris Johnson has insisted that he would not risk Britain’s security when upgrading the nation’s 5G communications network – but said critics of Chinese technology firm Huawei must come up with an “alternative” provider.

The prime minister is due to make a final decision on whether to allow the tech firm to operate “non-core” parts of the UK telecoms system within weeks.

In his first interview of the new year with BBC Breakfast, Johnson said: “The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”

He added: “On the other hand, let’s be clear, I don’t want, as the UK prime minister, to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to cooperate with Five Eyes intelligence partners [the UK, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia].”

The US has repeatedly warned the UK that allowing Huawei to operate its 5G network could put transatlantic intelligence sharing at risk. US officials have said allowing access would be “nothing short of madness”.

Pressure has also come from within the Five Eyes intelligence sharing organisation. Australia banned Huawei from running its 5G broadband network last year.

The head of MI5, Andrew Parker, said over the weekend that he had “no reason to think” that using Huawei technology should threaten intelligence sharing with the US.

In a wide-ranging interview, Johnson also said a trade deal with the EU in the next 11 months is “epically likely” but did not rule out difficulty in meeting the legal timetable he has set.

On the likelihood of a comprehensive trade deal by 31 December, he said it was: “Enormously likely, epically likely”.

He said: “I mean obviously you cannot, you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense but I’m very, very, very confident we will get … this is not about a deal, this is about building a great new partnership.”

On his low profile over the festive break where he spent time holidaying in the Caribbean, and which led to criticism of a “submarine-like” image when it comes to public scrutiny, he said the submarine is now “crashing through the ice floes”.

In a message to northern voters who switched from Labour to the Conservatives at the general election, he said he would help them by putting 20,000 extra police officers on the streets and would work to wind up the county lines drugs trade, as well as invest in health and education.

He said: “There are too many towns, parts of our country, where people don’t feel they have opportunity.”

On the report into alleged interference in the EU referendum by Russia, conducted by parliament’s intelligence and security committee, he said it would be released “within weeks”.

The government was severely criticised by the former committee chair and ex-MP Dominic Grieve for not publishing it during the general election.

Johnson said: “There is absolutely no reason why it should not be published. I happen to have read it and I think after all that clamour in the election campaign I think people are going to be disappointed.”

There was also a suggestion the public may be asked to crowdfund the cost of Big Ben chiming at 11pm on 31 January to mark Britain’s exit from the EU. Johnson said he was working on a scheme along the lines of “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

The House of Commons Commission decided not to look into sounding the bell despite a request from MPs because of the £500,000 cost.