On the face of it, this has been a very good week for Brexit. A remarkable speech was made by David Frost, the UK government’s chief EU negotiator, in which he told an audience in the belly of the Brussels beast in no uncertain terms that Britain will become an independent country. Frost said that if Britain agrees to align with the EU’s rules, as Brussels is demanding, Brexit will not have been achieved. He meant business.
I could scarcely believe it when I heard Frost’s words but, having done so, I should still be rejoicing. In politics, however, there is never much time to enjoy victories. Britain’s liberation from the EU, which became official on 31 January, seems a long time ago. For now, an ominous presence threatens to overshadow all of this, calling into question the UK’s position in the world. This sense of foreboding has only intensified over the last few days.
This new battle, which is of vital importance, relates to the Chinese technology company Huawei. Boris Johnson’s government recently invited it to help build Britain’s 5G network. I think the time has come for people to pick sides. The question is: are we to remain with the Western democracies that have always been our allies, or are we to throw our lot in with the Chinese Communist Party?
There is no room for compromise. I know it has been suggested that Huawei could be phased out of our 5G system over the course of the next three years when new solutions come along, but this simply won’t wash. Once Huawei is in the 5G network, getting it out will be all but impossible. For this reason, Johnson must reverse his decision to allow Huawei to take such a big position in creating 5G. A full-scale rebellion within Britain’s ruling Conservative Party is the only way he can be guaranteed to change his mind.
Many of our friends around the world, and indeed thinkers in this country, find the government’s decision to do business with Huawei on this scale incomprehensible. Tensions are running so high that a group of senior Australian MPs from its intelligence and security committee have even cancelled a planned trip to the UK in protest. It is not difficult to see why. The ugly truth is that China has bought and paid for the UK establishment. Our elite has been captured, and not for the first time. One only has to look at the advisory board for Huawei to understand what is happening.
Take Sir Andrew Cahn, a career civil servant who worked as chief of staff to Neil Kinnock when he was an EU Commissioner. Since 2015, he has been a non-executive director of Huawei. Others who have worked for Huawei include former bosses of the British Chambers of Commerce, those who have run multinationals and, crucially, former mandarins such as John Suffolk. He is Huawei’s Senior Vice President and the Global Cyber Security & Privacy Officer and is officially “responsible for strengthening the company’s understanding of information security issues of governments and operators and ensuring the trusted delivery of telecommunications networks.” Before joining Huawei in 2011, Suffolk spent more than seven years in the UK Government, where he was the strategy chief for in charge of transforming public services enabled by technology. His usefulness to Huawei is immense.
Aiding and abetting Huawei’s move into Britain’s 5G network is the London-based PR industry. Giant companies such as WPP, founded and run by for many years by Sir Martin Sorrell (himself a key pro-globalist and pro-EU man), have helped to oil the wheels. Likewise Roland Rudd, who has devoted much of his recent working life to a doomed attempt to force Britain to have a second EU referendum.
There is nothing new about the British establishment’s attraction to China. The government of David Cameron, who was prime minister until 2016, edged us in this direction for years. Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, visited China in 2015 and promised that the UK would be its “best partner in the west”. Subsequently, the UK government entered into a hugely complicated agreement with French energy giant EDF and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), a state-run Chinese energy company to build Hinckley Point C, in south west England, the most expensive nuclear power station in the world. It will take up to four more decades to meet the cost of this project. The Chinese must have been delighted to sign up.
In 2015, Cameron himself even took President Xi for a pint in his local pub in Oxfordshire to seal their respective countries’ “golden” friendship. (The pub, incidentally, was apparently bought a year later by a Chinese firm.) This is the same David Cameron who now acts as an official interlocutor between the Chinese and British governments.
They sold us out to the EU, now they’re selling us to China
Sadly, under Boris Johnson’s regime, not much appears to have changed. Just look at one of our key strategic industries, British Steel. It appears to have been sold to another Chinese firm, Jingye, despite competitive bids from other parts of the world. I believe that the same establishment that sold out our nation to the European Union is now selling us out to China.
Of course, many of the influences around Boris Johnson are pro-China – up to and including members of his own family. Only a couple of weeks ago his father, Stanley, had a 90-minute meeting with the Chinese ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming. Afterwards, Johnson Snr emailed UK officials outlining Xiaoming’s worries that his son Boris had failed to send a personal message of support after the coronavirus outbreak. This fascinating insight only became public because Johnson Snr accidentally copied the BBC into his message.
Then there is Boris’s younger brother, Jo, who was Britain’s Universities Minister until 2019. During his time in post, he endorsed the University of Reading’s partnership with China’s Nanjing University, which specialises in—you guessed it—information, science and technology. And even the prime minister’s step-brother, Max, has experience of the Chinese, having got his MBA at Beijing University before spending several years in the City working for Goldman Sachs.
The point is that many of those who are closest to Boris Johnson believe that the Huawei deal is good. I cannot know what Britain’s intelligence services at GCHQ have said about the risks, or whether they believe that having Huawei on the periphery and not the core of 5G means that everything is ok (although every expert I have spoken to disagrees with this fundamentally.) But one thing the intelligence services cannot do is to assess the political risk.
I am convinced that this is the worst decision taken by a UK government for many years. Even the highly-valued Five-Eyes intelligence sharing partnership of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK is in doubt. Only this week Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told the Oxford Union that the US is extremely worried about this decision. He said: “Our governments share a tremendous amount of security information. We are very much concerned that integrity of that information is hardwired into your computer systems, and if you folks go forward with the decision to include Huawei, it will have a direct and dramatic impact on our ability to share information with you. Period, end of story.”
The Australians and New Zealanders very clearly share that view. The future of NATO is also threatened by this relationship breakdown between the UK and the American governments. US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said explicitly that the Huawei agreement puts our alliance in jeopardy.
While David Frost made all the right noises in Brussels this week about Britain’s future trade policies and relationships, it is important to remember: whatever powers the US President may have (of course, he can give pardons or even go to war), he needs Congress to approve trade deals. At this moment, the UK’s crucial trade negotiations with the US are going backwards and not forwards. Even the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has taken a rare stand and united with Republicans against the British position on the Huawei issue. It seems to me the prospect of any trade deal getting through Congress at the moment is virtually zero.
That Boris Johnson has now cancelled his visit to the White House to meet President Trump should concern us all. The next time the two men will meet is at a G7 summit in June. For a British prime minister not to visit the most pro-UK President in years—a man who even returned the bust of Sir Winston Churchill to the Oval office—tells its own story about how poor relations appear to be. None of us knows exactly what was said during the allegedly “tense” telephone call between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson this month, during which Trump was reportedly “apoplectic” over the Huawei decision, but I can well imagine.
I will be back in Washington DC next week and have scheduled meetings with many Congressmen and Senators. I will be making the argument that we need to open up the spectrum available for use on mobile phones, so much of which is held by defence agencies. I will try to explain that the auctions for this spectrum need to be done on a wholesale basis and not resell basis, the method by which so many of our mobile phone operators have found themselves so heavily indebted and therefore vulnerable to the influence of a Chinese state-run telecoms company. I will be looking for solutions, but I don’t expect to find any softening of the American position.
The special relationship, on all levels, is threatened in a way it has not been in modern times. But there is some hope. A rebellion is brewing within the British Conservative party, and Boris Johnson’s officials in Number 10 Downing Street know this. Critical articles that have appeared in the press this week have been met with phone calls and strong responses from Johnson’s team. They are nervous, and so they should be. Senior UK parliamentary figures such as former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, former Brexit Secretary David Davis, and senior backbencher John Redwood—men who for many years fought hard against EU integration—are making a firm stand. Others are starting to listen. Johnson also needs to listen quickly or, he may suffer his first great humiliation of his new premiership.
This weekend, for the first time ever, I visited St Martin’s Church in Bladon, Oxfordshire, where Sir Winston Churchill is buried. Born of an American mother and a British father, this statesman brought our two great nations together and successfully defeated Nazism and extremism. As I stood at his grave, I asked myself which side would he choose if he were here today: Communist China or our friends in the West? I think I know the answer.