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28 January 2020

Senior Tories denounce ministers over Huawei 5G decision

Supportive Conservative MPs were hard to find as Dominic Raab endured a rough ride in the Commons this afternoon.

By Patrick Maguire

Dominic Raab, the minister lobbed the hospital pass of defending the government’s decision to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to help set up Britain’s 5G network, had a rough ride in the Commons this afternoon. Try though the Foreign Secretary did to assure the Conservative backbenches that any security risk had been mitigated, MPs were in no mood to agree. 

Supportive interventions from the government benches were few and far between – of the big names in attendance, only Theresa May and Jeremy Wright, both of whom were in the cabinet that gave provisional approval to granting Huawei access, rose to endorse the move. In Wright’s case it was accompanied with a critical caveat: that ministers had failed to share with the Commons intelligence briefings that supported its position. 

The warm words offered no reassurance to the string of former cabinet ministers and senior backbenchers who subsequently condemned the decision, however. Among them was David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, who told Raab – his former chief of staff – that Huawei should be banned from the network outright. His words were echoed by Penny Mordaunt, the former defence secretary; Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee; Julian Lewis, the outgoing chairman of the Defence Select Committee; former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith; and European Research Group stalwart Bernard Jenkin.

Given the government’s sizeable majority of 85, one would presume that – while unedifying – the chorus of criticism need not give it a sleepless night. But one line of today’s announcement has given the sceptics cause for optimism: a pledge to legislate to enact today’s decision in the near future. Those opposed to Huawei’s involvement in UK infrastructure – several of whom have plenty of experience in fomenting backbench rebellion – hope today is merely the opening salvo of a campaign that will see the government defeated.

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