HENRY DEEDES: May's stare could have turned an elephant into stone
HENRY DEEDES: As MPs digested the Government’s Huawei decision, Theresa May’s stare could have turned an elephant into a lump of stone
HENRY DEEDES Quarter past three on a Tuesday afternoon and Theresa May was pulling that face again. It’s that one that creeps across her face as though accompanied by an unexpected clap of thunder.
Her eyebrows twitch, her mouth droops downwards and from those eyes – those cold, lapis lazuli eyes – there comes a stare which I swear could turn bull elephants into hardened lumps of stone.
The former Prime Minister was sat at her usual perch on the Government benches a couple of rows behind the dispatch box while shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds dissected the Government’s statement on its decision to give Huawei the go-ahead to build parts of our 5G network.
Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons on security fears after the UK Government agreed to allow Huawei to take a role in developing UK 5G infrastructure
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured, left and right) as he makes a statement on the Government’s 5G announcement, in the House of Commons on Tuesday
Iain Duncan-Smith speaking in the House of Commons in Parliament today on security fears
It was when Thomas-Symonds asked for reassurances over whether our communication channels used for intelligence sharing would be at-risk that she tilted back her head sharply, craned her jaw and let out a creamy little chuckle. ‘My dear boy,’ it seemed to say smugly. ‘You really haven’t the faintest idea, have you?’
Mrs May, who agreed to give Huawei access to our 5G network when she was prime minister, is clearly relaxed about Chinese involvement with our infrastructure. But while she will have been briefed at the highest level on the matter, it is clear most MPs think the idea stinks.
Worryingly for May’s successor in No 10, many of them happen to be Conservatives. Senior ones, too.
No sooner had Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab finished issuing the statement on behalf of the Government than up they all shot behind him like a row of tin ducks at a fairground game.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Con, Chingford & Woodford Green) took on role of the pompous Field Marshal, announcing that he was ‘deeply disappointed’ at the decision to allow Huawei into our network. A wobbly voiced Penny Mordaunt thought it ‘regrettable’. Disappointed? Regrettable? What a polite bunch. They were positively steaming.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to students during his visit to King’s Maths School in central London on Monday
Dominic Raab as he makes a statement on the Government’s 5G announcement in Parliament today
David Davis speaking in the House of Commons on security fears after the UK Government agreed to allow Huawei to take a role in developing UK 5G infrastructure
Raab sat listening with his unblinking eyes staring straight ahead. For a Foreign Secretary, Raab is not particularly reassuring. He seethes rather than soothes. At one point, when Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) launched into one of his weighty objections to Huawei, I noticed a little vein on Dom’s head begin to throb with irritation.
Not even David Davis, whom Raab worked for during his early Parliamentary career, was feeling supportive, warning that even if Huawei wasn’t an arm of the Chinese government, it was still required to take instruction from the Chinese intelligence agency.
‘I am afraid that the only way to protect our safety is to ban it,’ Davis intoned gravely. Raab shot his former boss a rueful grin, muttering politely: ‘I welcome my friend’s scrutiny as ever.’
Mrs May then rose, clutching a leather-bound notebook, and commended the Government on its decision. That was about as warm as she gets for this lot. Raab simply looked grateful for the life raft. A few others followed. Kevan Jones (Lab, N Durham), an ex-Ministry of Defence man who seems relatively clued up about these matters, said he saw no risk in involving Huawei that couldn’t be mitigated.
There were also some surprisingly sympathetic noises from Barry Sheerman (Lab, Huddersfield) – a man, one suspects, who was one of those chaps who never managed to work out the video recorder. He simply said he recognised what a highly complex situation this was.
Ex-Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, once one of Mrs May’s faceless frontbench wonders, attempted to reassure colleagues by reminding them that most of them had not seen the intelligence briefings which will have influenced the Government’s decision.
‘I actually have,’ he said slightly too forcefully. There was a shocked gasp from someone across the chamber. I wasn’t sure if it was at the thought of Wright spilling the beans or the reminder that he was once a cabinet minister.
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