The revelation that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new communications chief Guto Harri lobbied Number 10 on behalf of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei raised concerns among MPs, but Downing Street insisted that the lobbying was “within the rules.”
Harri, a former BBC journalist who served as Johnson’s spokesman and chief of staff during his first term as London mayor, was named on Feb. 5 as the prime minister’s new director of communications.
The Sun newspaper reported the following day that Harri, who had been working for lobbying firm Hawthorn Advisors, was “directly involved” in talks with senior officials in 2020 trying to persuade the government not to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G networks.
In response to the report, the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Feb. 8: “My understanding is that there was a meeting that took place with Huawei and Number 10 officials. That is within the rules, obviously we met with a number of interested parties at that time while that discussion was taking place. That was in full compliance with the guidance.”
Johnson initially favoured a limited role for Huawei, but eventually decided to strip Huawei equipment from Britain’s 5G networks by 2027, due to pressure from the United States and his own backbench Conservative MPs.
The spokesman said that Johnson had described himself as a “Sinophile” but the government had a “clear-eyed” approach to Beijing.
“It’s in the UK’s interest to have an effective relationship with China,” the spokesman said.
“That needs to be clear eyed, as the Integrated Review [of foreign and defence policy] makes clear. We need to be able to address disagreements in a frank manner and address some of the challenges that China can pose. And that’s what the prime minister does.”
According to The Sun, Harri had a 25-minute video call with Sir Eddie Lister, then chief of staff of Number 10, alongside three top Huawei executives, on June 2, 2020.
Harri asked Lister which ministers could receive a “nudge” for his Chinese client, the minutes of the meeting show.
The revelations raised concerns among UK lawmakers over Harri’s appointment.
The main opposition Labour Party warned of “potential national security issues” arising from “the revolving door from lobbying to government.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative Party leader, called for Harri to be subjected to “full security oversight including past involvements with Huawei.”
Sir Richard Dearlove, former chief of the MI6 intelligence agency, said Harri should make public the extent of his past association with Huawei and to clarify his current views on it.
“I hope he has distanced himself from Huawei, has not recently been in receipt of their money, and has changed his view as the government’s policy has changed,” he told The Telegraph.
The prime minister’s official spokesman refused to comment specifically on Harri’s security clearance, but he said, “It is accurate to say that any individual would be unable to access sensitive documents or information without the requisite security clearance.”
PA Media contributed to this report.