Huawei executives were last night accused of snubbing the Commons Defence Committee over 5G weeks after it received a grilling over freedom of speech.
The Daily Telegraph understands that Jeremy Thompson and Victor Zhang, vice presidents of Huawei UK and Dr Yao Wenbing, vice president of business development, were all expected to give evidence before the committee, as they had done earlier this month when invited by the Science & Technology committee.
During the meeting the executives refused to comment on the row with China over Hong Kong only moments after insisting that the company’s UK leaders were free to express their opinions.
Days later Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, confirmed the UK would ban Huawei from the its 5G network and set a new deadline for stripping it out of all infrastructure at the cost of £2bn, by 2027.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, told those gathered at Tuesday's meeting: “Huawei were supposed to join us, unfortunately they’ve declined to be here. This might be connected to the recent announcement in July. I’m sure they’re here in spirit, if not, I’m certain they’re going to be listening.”
Meanwhile, executives from BT and Vodafone who did attend the committee warned that bringing forward the date by which they must remove Huawei equipment from 5G networks risked significant service blackouts.
Mark Francois, a former armed forces minister, suggested backbench MPs could seek to amend the bill dictating the timeframe for Huawei's removal from 5G in the UK, and said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the current cut-off date of 2027 was amended to 2023 "whether the Government likes it or not".
However BT's chief technology officer Howard Watson warned against such approach, which he said “would cause significant mobile network outages”.
He added that was the “wrong thing to do for the nation given the dependence that we've all found on our telecommunications networks through the time that we've been through in the last four or five months”.