is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
The British prime minister’s hasty U-turn on a deal with China’s Huawei will cost tech firms and the taxpayer a fortune, and means Donald Trump has got his way again.
When Boris Johnson announced earlier this year Huawei had been given the green light to supply the UK with non-core equipment for its new 5G network, onlookers were impressed that the prime minister had stood up to Donald Trump, who was dead against the deal and, according to reports at the time, was “apoplectic” in a phone call to Downing Street.
But proving yet again how quickly time flies in politics, the UK has now seemingly backtracked on its deal with Huawei, much to the dismay of the British telecommunication firms who were busy gearing up for life with the new partner.
It appears that money spent on new investment and equipment has been wasted, the telecoms business is in total confusion and the taxpayer will be left to foot the bill of this jaw-dropping reverse ferret as brand new, expensive equipment is torn out and binned.
One person who will be very happy with this latest news, however, is the US president.
Not only because things have gone his way, but also because Huawei’s market position has been damaged, perhaps irreparably, and the UK now looks set to sign up to a new international scheme to create a 5G standard with BT, Vodafone and, among other tech giants, Facebook. That’s right. Facebook.
Huawei shafted by Trump
Having screwed Huawei over the supply of crucial US-made components needed for their semiconductors during his “big, beautiful monster” trade deal, Trump’s actions have meant that the Chinese were left looking unable to access the best technology needed to fulfil the new demands of the UK deal.
If that is the case then it’s understandable that the UK should look elsewhere, although to its shame, it has just stood by and let this happen.
When it suited, the PM exploited the global respect he’d won for denying the president in the first instance. But now, the reality is that the UK is exposed as the obedient little poodle it was pretending not to be.
Yap bloody yap.
You could see the PM’s view in following his own course at the outset. Huawei had been operating here for more than 20 years, supplying kit to BT, Vodafone and others, so it’s not as if it was an unknown quantity. And as things stood at that point, there were only three big operators out there – Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia – who could supply what the UK needed.
Back in January, the idea of building “another Ericsson” was completely dismissed as something that would take decades.
Now it seems that hurdle of time has been more easily surmounted than first thought.
Dead cat strategy
While the political skullduggery that has surrounded this deal, both here and Stateside, highlights the extent of the trade disconnect between the US and China, like so much that will come into play over the next few months, Brexit, that dear old friend, also has a role here.
Johnson is going to need some big wins coming out of the coronavirus pandemic to deflect the scrutiny that will inevitably follow the inquest into Britain’s preparedness for and how it initially dealt with the Covid-19 outbreak. I doubt the conclusions will make for edifying reading.
But it will be the perfect time to implement the dead cat strategy.
The PM and his aide Dominic Cummings are reportedly big fans of the dead cat strategy – initially credited to Aussie political guru Lynton Crosby – so the suggestion makes perfect sense. It’s a simple technique. Create a big distracting event to divert everyone’s attention from what you would rather they didn’t see.
So, it could be that amid much fanfare, Boris and Donald sign a fantastic new UK-US trade deal showing the post-Brexit power of Britain just as we’re all starting to rub our eyes, blink in the post-pandemic sunlight, and ask how it came to be that so many of our friends, family and total strangers died so suddenly from the virus here, when the populations of other countries escaped comparatively lightly.
Difficult questions deflected by a shiny new trade deal with our oldest ally.
Dead cat perfection.