Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei a role in Britain’s 5G network could threaten a post Brexit trade deal between the UK and America, US vice president Mike Pence has indicated.
The comments came after it was reported that US President Donald Trump blasted the Prime Minister with “apoplectic” rage during a heated phone call regarding the 5G move.
Pressed on whether the Huawei decision could be a deal breaker in Brexit trade talks, Mr Pence told CNBC: “We’ll see. We’ll see if it is.”
Referring to the UK move to allow Huawei limited participation in the 5G rollout, Mr Pence said: “We are profoundly disappointed because look, when I went at the president’s direction in September I met with Prime Minister Johnson and I told him the moment the UK is out of Brexit we were willing to begin to negotiate a free trade arrangement with the UK.
“But we just don’t believe that utilising the assets, the technology of Huawei is consistent with the security or privacy interests of the UK, of the United States and it remains a real issue between our two countries.”
The US vice president added: “We’re anxious to build our economic ties, but we have made it clear to Prime Minister Johnson and to officials in the UK, that as we expand opportunities to build out 5G across this country… we want to see our companies meet the needs in the United States and UK and among all our allies without the compromise of privacy and the compromise of security that necessarily comes with Huawei and control by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Asked about reports that Mr Trump was “apoplectic with fury” when talking to the PM, Mr Pence said: “Well, I never comment on the president’s private conversations with me, or others.”
The Prime Minister defied repeated lobbying from the US to rule that the Chinese firm could play a limited role in the infrastructure.
The States had warned the move would jeopardise intelligence sharing as it raised concerns over the telecommunications company’s links to the Chinese state.
Citing officials in London and Washington, the Financial Times reported that the US president had been livid with the PM in a phone call after the decision was announced last week.
One person briefed on the contents of the call described the US president as being “apoplectic” with the PM, according to the newspaper.
Downing Street did not deny the report and pointed towards a No 10 version of events after the call, saying the PM had updated Mr Trump on the decision.
The move has been a particularly thorny one for Mr Johnson, with his Brexit plans relying heavily on striking an ambitious free trade deal with the US.
“The Prime Minister underlined the importance of like-minded countries working together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies,” the statement added.
Huawei is only one of a series of issues where the two nations are at odds.
Washington has threatened to retaliate with tariffs on the British car industry, if the Government goes ahead with a planned tax on tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
The UK is also pressing for the extradition of the wife of an American intelligence official charged with causing the death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn.
Nevertheless, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the “special relationship” between the UK and the US is in a “fantastic place” as he visited London.