The Telegraph, 12 April, 2019
The news that the EU has given Mrs May an extension until October 31 is – it’s fair to say – another embodiment of the mess that Westminster has let itself get into.
It seems that Brussels is willing to let this government exhaust itself into submission, perhaps surviving a leadership contest, only to achieve total meltdown in October.
Yet if things were bleak for our relationships on the Continent, they’re nothing compared to a new, truly horrific, risk that is brewing in our transatlantic relationship. Compounding affronts to our American allies are causing conniptions in Whitehall and raised eyebrows in Washington.
First, there are the implications of the Withdrawal Agreement for trade deals outside the common market. Remarkably fuzzy on this issue, any deal that ties the UK to the common market will severely limit our ability to make trade deals with other big economies. And for those who know about trade, that means the United States.
For all the caricatures of the US as the home of gun-toting freedom lovers, the country is our largest trade partner outside the EU, accounting for 13.3 per cent of British exports, surpassing Germany to account for £48 billion in trade. The US also invests a large amount into the UK economy, accounting for 35.8 per cent of the total number of foreign direct investment projects into Britain in 2017. For context, Germany only accounted for 8.6 per cent.
More serious than losing an opportunity for new trade though is the risk of losing the security partnership we already share. For it now appears as though we risk crashing out of the Special Relationship as well as crashing out of the European Union (or certainly giving it a good try) by allowing Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications firm, to build the UK’s new 5G network.
The US and UK have long sat at the head of the Five Eyes relationship (Australia, the UK, the US, New Zealand, and Canada), which allows for regular intelligence-sharing and acts as a bedrock to the NATO Alliance. In addition to high levels of interoperability, the Five Eyes arrangement allows for British personnel to be embedded inside the US bureaucracy, so you might have a UK FCO official attached to the Department of State and vice versa. It’s not at all common in the diplomatic world, and causes a sort of wonder even among some of the closest allies of the US. It also enables us access to the some of the best intelligence, particularly satellite data. It is a remarkable bond.
Currently, both the British Government and its national security advisers are writing a “Supply Chain Security Review” of companies that who will be able to help build Britain’s new 5G network. While it’s not set up as a report on whether or not to ban Huawei, the eyes of the world’s security services are keenly awaiting its publication. Alarmingly, the National Cyber Security Centre, despite admitting that Huawei’s processes are “shoddy” and allow for systemic risk, is still only considering a “partial” ban.
This sounds like being partially pregnant, given the interconnectivity of the new so-called internet-of-things. What’s most of concern is the NCSC’s confession that since raising their concerns in July 2018, Huawei has done nothing to change their practices, and what solutions they’ve suggested are below-par.
Huawei is the only company which currently has the end-to-end capability to provide 5G, provoking British companies to throw themselves into the fray, egging on HMG to allow the Chinese firm inside. A consortium of British companies – perhaps sensing an opportunity to drive the price for deployment even further down – have commissioned a report themselves.
Ban Huawei, they cry, and it will cost us £6.8 billion, but the report studiously avoids mentioning security concerns over data theft, the loss of intellectual property, and even worse, over the potential costs to the Special Relationship. In March of this year, US General Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe warned Germany of the US commitment to it if Berlin chose Huawei. This warning should not be ignored by our decision-makers.
It is said that Britain’s Ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, told his staff to never use the term, Special Relationship as it misrepresented the hard-nosed reality of relations between the world’s superpower and the United Kingdom. The Special Relationship, that old cliché, upon which many transatlantic toasts have been made. Rome to America’s Greece, as Harold Macmillan had it, the UK has often sought influence and interest over American foreign policy elites, and who can blame them?
The relationship is vital to Britain’s interests, both strategic and economic. Exiting the EU may be the will of the people, but letting narrow commercial interests crash us out of the Five Eyes and Special Relationship is an altogether more dangerous proposition.