MPs campaigning against Chinese involvement welcomed the review. Former trade secretary Liam Fox told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that the Huawei decision was dead either way because enough backbenchers were ready to join him in defeating the legislation on the floor of the Commons.
The review comes as the Trump administration recently imposed new sanctions forbidding any US intellectual property from being used in Huawei equipment.
This includes barring any chipmaker using US equipment from supplying Huawei without US government approval.
The ruling has critical implications for Johnson’s decision in January to allow the Chinese vendor to supply up to 35 per cent of Britain’s 5G networks.
Fox, who was part of Theresa May’s National Security Committee that approved Huawei involvement, said: “I’m not sure what the review will do but I’m very clear what parliamentary opinion will be, especially inside the Conservative Party, which is that we think it is possible to establish a 5G network without Huawei.
“Clearly that’s what the US is going to do; that’s clearly what Australia is going to do.”
Both Australia and the US lobbied Britain against using the Chinese vendor because of spying fears.
But Johnson ignored the urgings despite the US threatening to cut Britain off from Five Eyes intelligence that is gathered by and shared between Australia, Britain, the US, New Zealand and Canada.
The move alarmed government MPs.
Fox, and 35 other government MPs mounted a rebellion on a Huawei amendment to an unrelated telecommunications bill in March; the vote fell short by just 13, despite Johnson securing an 80-seat majority in the December election.
“If it were to come back to the House of Commons and the government were not to change its position it would be defeated,” Fox said.
“I welcome the signals being sent by the government that they are going to have a change of heart on it and I hope that they do so voluntarily because I can assure you if they decided to continue down the current path, then they are likely to be forced to take a different route.”
MPs are pushing for a time limit for when Huawei can be used, ideally within two to three years.
“I want it become zero; frankly if we have to wait a little bit longer to get 5G in order to get zero-Huawei content, I’m relaxed about that – as I think the population would be.
“I don’t think they think that getting to 5G is such a national imperative that we have to imperil our national security to get it.”
Huawei executive Victor Zhang said the pandemic had underlined the importance of keeping Britain connected.
“The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks,” Zhang said.
“Our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.