The boss of Britain’s biggest business group has waded into the row over Huawei’s role in the nation’s 5G network, warning moves to restrict the Chinese firm’s involvement could ‘damage’ economic recovery.
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the nation’s future economic revival is already being labelled a ‘digital first’ recovery, with many employees working from home and firms seeking innovative ways to adapt and boost productivity.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under huge pressure to reduce Huawei’s part in the rollout of 5G mobile internet as anti-Chinese sentiment among Tories escalates in the wake of the pandemic.
Huawei is supplying the equipment used to build the UK’s 5G network, but last month it emerged that Johnson had drawn up plans to end the firm’s involvement altogether by 2023.
Fairbairn said: ‘Huawei has been an important contributor getting 5G rolled out and that’s going to be an important part of our economic recovery.
‘It’s going to be part of [Johnson’s pledge of] ‘levelling up’ the entire country. Be very careful about taking a decision that really damages our ability to recover.
‘The digital transformation is going to be central to the recovery in the UK and you have all sorts of reasons why you want to continue at full speed. We need to make sure we take decisions that really are the right ones for the country and we’re not forced into a binary choice that harms us.’
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Fairbairn said Britain is entering a crucial stage in its economic future with decisions on key sectors such as hospitality yet to be given clarity on reopening, confusion over 14-day quarantine measures for arrivals at airports, and schools still partially closed.
‘We’re in a race against time,’ she said. ‘The end of October is going to be such a difficult moment when the furlough scheme unwinds. We need our political decisions to line up with that and it doesn’t feel as though we are at the moment.
‘We need to get ahead of that and do everything we can to get businesses to open successfully and safely.
‘I hope over the course of July we start to see the ticking off of those decisions and the clarity that business needs to open really safely and protect as many jobs as we can.’
She added: ‘We need to avoid seeing the economy and health as a trade-off. There will be dramatic health implications from a serious and deep depression – and unemployment has a well-documented impact on health.
‘The thing we should be most worried about is unemployment and redundancies.’
The CBI has sent a recipe for recovery to the Government ahead of July’s mini-Budget. It concentrates on calling for job creation and the protection of existing jobs.