BREXIT campaigners have long argued that one of the key benefits of leaving the EU is the possibility of a US-UK trade deal – but this could be on the rocks as Boris Johnson has been warned he cannot meet Donald Trump’s demands.
Brexit came to fruition on January 31 as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered on his manifesto promise and “got it done”. The UK now finds itself in a transition period with the EU, until the countrys full withdrawal at the end of 2020 – with or without a free trade agreement (FTA). As the EUs chief negotiator Michel Barnier has locked horns with his British counterpart David Frost, the UK has been able to reach out and bid for other free trade deals – something being tied to the EU stopped Britain from doing before Brexit was finalised this year. But the process has not been straightforward and the much-touted US-UK trade deal appears to have hit a critical snag with China at its heart.
The White House has repeatedly raised concerns over Chinese technology giant Huaweis role in the UKs 5G telecoms network, with US President Trump reportedly demanding Mr Johnson cut ties with China altogether to secure any kind of deal.
In January, the UK announced that it would give Huawei a limited role in the country’s networks, allowing them a chance to bid for supplying up to 35 percent of the equipment for non-core parts of the network, but, the Telegraph reported last week that the Prime Minister has now U-turned on this decision in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The rethinking of the Huawei deal is said to have followed a growing backlash among Tory MPs against Chinese investment and ahead of Mr Johnsons visit to the US for the G7 summit next month.
On the face of it, it could be a decision that puts the prospect of a US-UK trade deal back on the table.
But Ministry of Defence insider Tobias Ellwood has explained why cutting ties with Huawei will not be simple or easy and Mr Trumps demands cannot be met.
He told Express.co.uk: “Were doing a Defence Select Committee hearing for this exact reason, so people understand the bigger picture.
“Its not as simple as saying drop Huawei, the reason is we have three set-ups in the UK, we have BT and EE, Vodafone, and O2.
“BT and EE use Nokia and Huawei networks, Vodafone uses Ericsson and Huawei, O2 uses Nokia and Ericsson.
“With the first two, Huawei has been involved with them for the last decade, you cant just unpick that overnight, thats the huge difference between Australia and the UK and the US.
“They can just say thank you, dont want Huawei here, but we cant just do that.”
The Bournemouth East MP says it will take years to eradicate Huawei from these networks, while it could also harm British companies.
He added: “Therefore we need a timetable to weave ourselves away from Huawei if this is the direction we want to go and commercially youd be hitting British companies really badly if you just made that decision overnight.
“So what we need is a transition plan over a number of weave years to get Huawei out – but the reason its so advanced is that its state-owned and they pump so much money into it.
“The last time the US did anything like that was the Apollo mission, that was another race, the space race, and who was going to get to the Moon first.
“Were in the same position now, where China is galloping ahead and we are relying on our own commercial sector to come up with all the answers.
“Weve got to follow China, it needs to be state-backed.”
Boris Johnson is said to have always had “serious concerns” over the 5G agreement, which was brokered by Theresa Mays Government, but signed off by her successor in January.
But Mr Trump has been highly critical of the decision to allow Huawei to build its network in the UK from the start.
He threatened to restrict Britain’s access to Five Eyes intelligence, which is gathered and shared by the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, following what was described as an “apoplectic” phone call with Mr Johnson over the deal in February.
US Vice President Mike Pence said afterwards that the Huawei decision that the Trump administration had made its disappointment at the UK decision “very clear to them”.
Mr Trump has also led the global outcry over Chinas role in the coronavirus crisis, accusing authorities of manipulating information and failing to adequately warn other countries about its deadly nature.