UK unveils plan to strip Chinese cameras from government buildings

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LONDON — British government departments will have to remove all surveillance equipment made by Chinese companies under a plan unveiled under pressure from hawkish Conservative backbenchers.

Ministers offered significant concessions to Tory rebels in the new procurement bill — which will set rules for companies competing for government contracts — over the use of security cameras made in China.

The climbdown comes after a series of meetings between ministers and rebel leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Alicia Kearns, who had both put forward amendments aiming to toughen up the bill’s language.

Under the new proposals, the Cabinet Office will create a National Security Procurement Unit and publish a timeline for the removal of cameras produced by companies subject to China’s National Security Law — which critics say allows Chinese authorities to demand to see material — from “sensitive central government sites.”

Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin said the measures would “protect our sensitive sectors from companies which could threaten national security and are a firm deterrence to hostile actors who wish to do Britain harm.”

But Duncan Smith told POLITICO he is not yet withdrawing his amendment, which has already gained cross-party support through the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a global grouping that takes a tough line on Beijing.

“The government has moved, they’ve toughened up their bill to a degree,” he said. “But they leave a tail wagging behind them with the definition of ‘sensitive.’ In truth all government sites are sensitive.”

Kearns, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, told POLITICO she was “delighted” with the move and said she would pull her amendments. “From local councils to power plants, and security bodies like GCHQ, we must make sure hostile states cannot embed state-subsidized hostile technologies into our lives,” she said.

The procurement bill is expected back in the Commons on Tuesday June 21.