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Wed 12 August 2020
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A French-owned company is in bed with both Huawei and the Foreign Office, reports Sam Bright

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A massive £3 million contract to handle Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) consular calls has been awarded to a firm with links to Huawei, Byline Times can reveal.

Government documents show that the French-owned firm Teleperformance Limited has been selected to deal with a surge in FCO consular and travel advice enquiries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK consulates represent the Government abroad and deal with issues presented by UK citizens and officials about living in those countries, often of a sensitive nature. For example, if a British citizen was a victim of violence or torture abroad, they could go to their UK consulate for help.

However, the UK Government isn’t Teleperformance’s only client.

The company announced a deal last November with the UK branch of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. Teleperformance was chosen to handle the UK customer service and technical support for the Chinese tech giant.

In a press release on the Teleperformance website, the UK firm praises Huawei for “helping to build a more prosperous, more productive and more connected future for the UK”.

This isn’t a view necessarily shared by the UK Government.

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Relations have turned frosty between the UK and China in recent months – provoked by a dispute over a draconian National Security Law imposed in Hong Kong, threatening the island’s ‘one country, two systems’ agreement negotiated by the UK in the handover of its former colony to China in 1997.

This conflict has manifested through the issue of Huawei – a sore point among many Conservative MPs, who believe that it was a mistake to allow the Chinese firm a role in constructing the UK’s 5G phone network.

Concerned that Huawei’s reported links to the Chinese Government might give it an incentive to compromise the UK’s critical infrastructure, the Government this week announced that UK telecoms networks would not be allowed to buy new Huawei 5G equipment from 31 December this year, and that all such equipment should be removed by 2027.

The Chinese Government has called the ban “groundless”.

The UK Government’s approach to Huawei seems to be one of extreme caution, yet documents show that in March, the Foreign Office awarded a £3 million contract to Teleperformance to handle potentially sensitive consular calls, despite its links to the Chinese firm.

Of course, Teleperformance’s business ties with Huawei do not mean that its work with the FCO will necessarily be compromised. There is no evidence that Teleperformance is using Huawei software to handle FCO calls and the firm will have been required to comply with due diligence checks.

But there are undoubtedly heightened data security issues associated with handling information on behalf of both the FCO and Huawei, given the current relations between China and the UK.

The FCO declined to comment. Teleperformance has been approached for comment.


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