Tech before US trade for post-Brexit Britain

LONDON — In the battle of the blonds, Boris Johnson taking back control.

The U.K. prime minister on Tuesday defied U.S. President Donald Trump’s warnings about allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to supply U.K. infrastructure.

Officials in London have barely hidden their disdain for aggressive U.S. lobbying against the Chinese firm in recent weeks, challenging the U.S. to come up with other possible suppliers.

The prime minister gave the green light to the inclusion of at least some of the firm’s technology in the U.K. telecoms network, but restricted access to “sensitive core” parts of the network.

Britain’s refusal to back down has been met with some surprise. Huawei — along with other decisions such as whether to impose a digital tax and what to do about Iran — is often presented as a stark choice for the British prime minister: Fall into line behind the Americans or jeopardize the U.K.’s chances of landing a long-promised trade deal with the U.S. after Brexit.

But former ministers and officials who are familiar with the mind-set of Johnson and his top adviser Dominic Cummings say privately that modern tech infrastructure is much more important to the pair’s vision for the U.K.’s future economy than trade with the U.S., welcome as a quick deal would be.

There were reports last year that U.S. negotiators had signaled the U.K.’s hopes of a post-Brexit trade deal could rest on its willingness to block Huawei.

“If you are Dom [Cummings] and the PM, you know in 10 years we want to be a high-tech Silicon Valley across the whole of the U.K.

 »