Civil service boss has nobbled Boris Johnson and MI5 into caving in over Huawei, claim Ministers as PM faces mounting fury over Chinese tech giant, HS2 and ‘control freak’ behaviour
- Cabinet row sparked by plans to allow the Chinese to help build mobile network
- Both the White House and members of the Cabinet are opposed
- Mr Trump proposed that UK and US work to ‘build an alternative 5G network’
- A source revealed: ‘There is a massive row brewing over all this’
Boris Johnson is facing a damaging Cabinet row over plans to allow the Chinese to help build the UK’s new mobile phone network, with senior Government figures accusing him of risking the country’s security at the behest of the Civil Service.
The Prime Minister is expected to announce within days that tech giant Huawei will be handed a contract to provide key parts for the new 5G system – despite angry opposition from some Cabinet Ministers and the White House, who fear the kit could be fitted with ‘back door’ security access for Chinese spies.
It comes as Mr Johnson’s administration is riven with disputes on climate change, the proposed HS2 line and preparations for the March Budget – as well as arguments about the ‘control freak’ behaviour of No 10 officials.
Controversial: Sir Mark Sedwill is claimed to have called on the Prime Minister to include Huawei to help build the system
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel have led Cabinet opposition to the proposed Huawei deal, citing US concerns about the company’s security and ties to the Chinese government – something Huawei has repeatedly denied.
On Friday night, President Donald Trump repeated his opposition to the plan in a phone call with Mr Johnson, which the White House diplomatically described as a ‘discussion of important regional and bilateral issues, including working together to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks’.
White House officials who were briefed on the call said that during the tense conversation, Mr Trump proposed that Britain and America work together to ‘build an alternative 5G network’ that does not use Huawei, with one source claiming that Mr Johnson seemed to ‘warm’ to the President’s proposal.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the powerful foreign affairs committee in the last Parliament, said that allowing the Huawei deal would call our sovereignty into question. Writing on the page opposite, Mr Tugendhat rejects the idea that the Chinese should win the contract because they offered the cheapest option.
He says: ‘Our choice of 5G provider should not be economic but about sovereignty. Only nations that can protect their data will be sovereign.’
Opposed: Home Secretary Priti Patel has spoken out against the Huawei deal, citing US concerns about the company’s security and ties to the Chinese government
Government sources say Mr Johnson has ‘buckled’ under pressure from Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to let Huawei help to build the system.
They claim that Sir Mark, the powerful head of the Civil Service, has ‘manipulated’ Mr Johnson into agreeing the deal by presenting it as a ‘fait accompli’ – and by ‘nobbling’ the British security services into dropping their objections.
A source said: ‘There is a massive row brewing over all this.
‘Sedwill is telling people not to ‘worry their little heads about it’, and manipulating Boris into appeasement by saying that as the deal was already given the green light by Theresa May, to cancel it would require him to actively reverse the decision of a predecessor.’
Sir Mark has told the Prime Minister that a ban on Huawei equipment would delay the widespread introduction of 5G for at least two years after the 2025 deadline in the Tory manifesto – and would also delay the availability of super-fast broadband.
Australia and New Zealand, which are part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing network with Canada, the UK and the US, have also imposed bans on Huawei, but Mr Sedwill argues that any security risk can be managed if Huawei is barred from the core elements of the fifth-generation mobile phone network.
Sir Mark is also at the centre of a separate Whitehall dispute over the priority the Government should be giving to climate change.
PM ‘blindsided’ on Stormont
THE Prime Minister was ‘completely blindsided’ by the deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, which includes an investigation into alleged crimes by British soldiers during the Troubles, sources have told The Mail on Sunday.
Allies of Boris Johnson say the controversial agreement – which promises an extra £2 billion for the Province – was negotiated behind his back by Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and decided without his approval.
Publicly, Mr Johnson hailed the ‘wonderful’ cross-party compromise, which led to the revival of the Stormont Assembly after a three-year suspension, and praised the politicians who had ‘stepped up to the plate and showed leadership’. But privately, his allies claim, Mr Johnson was fuming that the concessions were made without his say-so.
A senior Government source told the MoS: ‘Smith and the Northern Ireland Office went rogue and set up the deal behind the PM’s back, completely blindsiding him. Boris didn’t know about the £2 billion or the probe into veterans.’
He is understood to have angered senior Government figures by arguing that tackling the global ‘climate emergency’ should rank above traditional defence of the realm issues such as the size of the Armed Forces.
The row arose earlier this month ahead of a meeting of the National Security Council, a Cabinet committee chaired by the Prime Minister which oversees issues relating to national security, defence strategy and the intelligence services.
Sources say Sir Mark commissioned a paper ahead of the meeting which argued that tackling climate change should be ranked as the largest single threat to British security – on the grounds that floods, storms and bushfires such as the ones in Australia would lead to issues such as a surge in migrants targeting the UK, as well as greater geopolitical instability.
The meeting was cancelled in the wake of Sir Mark’s submission, the sources said.
Mr Johnson is also facing a crunch decision on whether to approve HS2, with his advisers and MPs hopelessly divided over whether the proposed London-Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds line is worth the £100 billion of taxpayers’ money it is projected to cost.
Opposition within the party is being led by 14 recently elected Tory MPs along the ‘Red Wall’ of former Labour seats who want the line scrapped and the money spent in their constituencies instead.
A total of £250 million a month is being burned through even before the project has started – money the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group has calculated would build 43 free schools, three hospitals, or a Type 31 Royal Navy frigate.
It comes as Cabinet tensions have risen over Chancellor Sajid Javid’s preparations for the Budget, expected in March.
One Cabinet Minister described Mr Javid as a ‘playground bully’ for the way he orders departments around.
The Minister added: ‘Everyone knows that Sajid is a wholly owned subsidiary of No 10, which tells him what to do.
‘What they don’t realise is what a playground bully he is being to other departments in response by rudely knocking back their suggestions.’
Cabinet tensions: Chancellor Sajid Javid has been branded ‘a wholly owned subsidiary of No 10’ by critics
Ministerial advisers complain that in the wake of the Election victory, Downing Street officials have become ‘control freaks’ by banning lunches with journalists and interrogating aides suspected of leaking stories to the media.
Ministers have been told they will be ‘marked out of ten’ on their performance ahead of the imminent Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings enhanced the perception of a ‘control freak’ by telling a meeting of ministerial advisers on Friday: ‘The People’s Government is advancing on all fronts.’
A defiant No 10 source said the ‘centralisation’ process would continue, with civil servants encouraged ‘to work more closely with No 10’, adding, ominously for the rest of Whitehall: ‘Likewise, No 10 colleagues will expect more open access to departmental meetings.’
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