As reported in CityAM:
The government would be “very unwise” to ignore Conservative rebels on Huawei, even if Downing Street wins today’s key vote, David Davis has warned.
Speaking just hours before MPs debated an amendment designed to force the government’s hand on 5G, banning it from using “high risk vendors” after 31 December 2022, the former Brexit secretary urged ministers to pay heed to the number and type of names concerned about the Chinese firm’s involvement.
So far 26 MPs have gone public, including former deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, foreign affairs select committee chair Tom Tugendhat alongside prominent ERG members Mark Francois and Owen Paterson.
Iain Duncan Smith, who led Boris Johnson’s campaign to become Tory leader, and other supporters of the current Prime Minister are also on the list
Davis this morning told CityAM: “Our ideal is to strike a deal with the government to find a timetabled route to zero. That is what we are after, hopefully we will get it.”
But he cautioned that rebels were not expecting to be successful during today’s debate, which is not even about Huawei but providing broadband to flats.
“This [amendment] was never anything more than emblematic,” he said. “It’s just to make our point.”
If government refuses to make concessions at this, he warned further pressure would be applied by “going shopping” among other backbenchers to present a “much more robust game”.
“We’ve not done the kind of campaigning you would do if you wanted to a, quote, rebellion. We have taken the view that this early in a government’s life you would prefer to avoid it.”
Davis said yesterday’s GCHQ briefing, designed to win MPs over, had resulted in further would-be rebels who felt it had been “patronising”.
It would be “very unwise” to ignore the movement, he added.
Conversations have been taking place between the rebels and ministers including culture secretary Oliver Dowden and his junior Matt Warman, as well as chief whip Mark Spencer.
One Conservative MP who is not in the rebel group told CityAM the government was likely to be “embarrassed”, if not defeated.
“They’ve been in conversations all afternoon with the chief,” he said. “Clearly they’ve got enough numbers that the chief whip is worried, because he doesn’t get involved for nothing.”
One DCMS source told CityAM there had been “movement on both sides” but cautioned that the introduction of a “hard and fast deadline” was unlikely despite “constructive” discussions.
While rebels are willing to accept some flexibility, Davis said he would need a commitment from the government to have Huawei ejected by the end of this parliament at the latest, warning of “immense damage” that could be caused if they wait for five years or more.
A bill to that effect must come before the summer, he added.