Shocked British officials seek answers on Trump's Huawei ban

The Huawei stand at the Mobile Expo in Bangkok, Thailand May 31, 2019.
The Huawei stand at the Mobile Expo in Bangkok, Thailand May 31, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The British government is sending a delegation to the US to seek clarity on how President Donald Trump's decision to place Huawei Technologies on an export blacklist affects companies overseas, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Two British officials said their government had no advance notice of the Trump administration's blacklisting of Huawei - and the ban has further delayed Britain's own decision on whether to allow the Chinese company to supply 5G phone networks.

A team of British officials is set to visit the US Department of Commerce to ask for guidance on the extent of the ban, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the information is not public.

Trump's ban comes at a sensitive time for the British government. The president is putting pressure on US allies to follow his lead and take a tougher line on Huawei, barring the company from involvement in 5G networks over security fears.

Britain is conducting a review of the telecom supply chain, which was originally due for publication in the first quarter of this year but has been pushed back to an uncertain date.

The findings of that review will be crucial in determining what role - if any - Britain allows Huawei to have in its emerging 5G infrastructure.

GRACE PERIOD

Under the terms of the US blacklisting, companies have until Aug 19 to carry on dealing with Huawei while they seek to make other arrangements and the US government weighs up longer-term measures.

But British officials are concerned about whether the grace period will be renewed and how far exemptions to the blacklist extend.

Britain's position on Huawei's involvement in 5G has not been finalised and could be delayed until a new prime minister is chosen to replace May, who is stepping down.

Officials said they had no clarity about whether the final decision will be taken by May or her successor, risking uncertainty in the telecom sector.

Last month, Britain's National Security Council, chaired by May, recommended Huawei should be allowed to build some parts of Britain's 5G networks, putting Britain in conflict with US demands, people familiar with the meeting said.

Some of the candidates lining up to replace May as Conservative Party leader have taken a harder line against Huawei in public.

On Tuesday, Trump predicted there would be no long-term disagreement between Britain and the US over Huawei's role. That would mean the sharing of secret intelligence between the two allies could continue unhindered.

"We are going to have absolutely an agreement on Huawei and everything else. We have an incredible intelligence relationship and we will be able to work out any differences," Trump said at a joint press conference in London with May.

"This is a truly great ally and partner and we will have no problem with that."