Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for having “convinced many countries” including the UK not to use Huawei after Boris Johnson ordered a ban on the Chinese firm with the country’s 5G network.
The US president said, “I did this myself, for the most part”, as he spoke of having worked to pressure nations to not use Huawei, adding: “If they want to do business with us, they can’t use it.”
In a major U-turn provoking criticism from China, the Prime Minister ordered telecoms firms to remove Huawei equipment from the 5G network by 2027.
The move, costing billions and delaying the deployment of 5G by up to three years, came after a Government-ordered review found the security of Huawei’s equipment could not be guaranteed because of US sanctions.
Mr Trump boasted in a press conference that no White House “has been tougher on China” than his administration, which the UK is trying to broker a post-Brexit trade deal with.
“We convinced many countries — many countries — and I did this myself, for the most part — not to use Huawei because we think it’s an unsafe security risk. It’s a big security risk,” he said.
“I talked many countries out of using it. If they want to do business with us, they can’t use it.
“Just today, I believe that UK announced that they’re not going to be using it. And that was up in the air for a long time, but they’ve decided.”
While the Government’s move pleased Mr Trump, who is facing a fight for re-election, it angered Beijing.
China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming tweeted: “Disappointing and wrong decision by the UK on Huawei.
“It has become questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the US sanctions played a role in the ban and said trade discussions were also an important consideration, but insisted it was “a sensible decision”.
“We all know Donald Trump, don’t we?” he told Sky News.
“All sorts of people can try to claim credit for the decision, but this was based on a technical assessment by the National Cyber Security Centre about how we can have the highest quality 5G systems in the future.
“We are looking for a good US trade deal and working very closely on that, I think that’s a very important consideration.”
The ban, ordered after a National Security Council meeting chaired by the PM, led to concerns being raised in the Commons about the possibility of retaliation from Beijing.
Huawei, which denies being a security threat, said decisions on its future in the UK had become politicised and urged ministers to reconsider the move.
After Tuesday’s decision, telecoms firms will be banned from next year from purchasing new 5G equipment from Huawei and will have to remove all the Chinese company’s kit by 2027.
They are also expected to be ordered to shift away from the purchase of Huawei’s equipment for full-fibre broadband networks over a period lasting up to two years.
In January, the firm was given permission to play a limited role in the 5G network.
But Downing Street insiders acknowledged the sanctions imposed by the White House in May were a “game-changer”.
Ministers ordered a review by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) into Huawei’s role in the UK after the sanctions barred Huawei’s access to products based on US semiconductor technology.
The NCSC’s technical director Ian Levy said products adapted to cope with the restrictions “are likely to suffer more security and reliability problems because of the massive engineering challenge ahead of them”.
And, he said, it would be “harder for us to be confident” in their use within the mitigation measures already in place for the “high risk” firm’s equipment.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Huawei ban could delay the roll-out of 5G by two to three years and potentially add £2 billion to the overall cost.
The Government had faced pressure from Tory backbenchers for a quicker approach to removing Huawei equipment, but Mr Dowden insisted that the changes would mean that, by the time of the next general election – expected in 2024 – the UK would be on an “irreversible path” to a network free from the firm.
The move takes place as the UK’s relationship with Beijing was already under strain over the imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, GCHQ’s protective signals intelligence network is on stand-by to detect and disrupt any attempt by China to mount cyber attacks on the UK in retaliation for the decision.
Officials say they are already dealing with a sustained high tempo of hostile cyber activity by state-sponsored actors including both China and Russia.
Huawei UK spokesman Ed Brewster said the “disappointing decision” is “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone”.
“We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK,” he said.
“Regrettably, our future in the UK has become politicised – this is about US trade policy and not security.”