Police inquiry call over Huawei leak


Gavin Williamson on 30 April 2019Image copyright

Calls are being made for a police inquiry after Gavin Williamson was sacked as defence secretary over a National Security Council meeting leak.

Opposition MPs said there should be an investigation into whether the Official Secrets Act had been breached.

Mr Williamson has strenuously denied he was involved in disclosing plans to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G network.

Downing Street said it had “compelling evidence” and the matter was closed.

The inquiry into the leak began after the Daily Telegraph reported on the council’s confidential discussions – including warnings from several cabinet members about possible risks to national security over a deal with Huawei.

Mr Williamson is quoted in several of Thursday’s newspapers as saying he was the victim of a “vendetta” and a “kangaroo court” and that he “swore on his children’s lives” that he was not responsible for the leak.

He also cited poor relations with Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, who carried out the leak investigation, telling the Times he would have had been “absolutely exonerated” had police probed what went on after the NSC meeting.

At a meeting with Mr Williamson on Wednesday evening, Theresa May told him she had information that suggested that he was responsible for the unauthorised disclosure.

In a letter confirming his dismissal, she said: “No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”

In response, Mr Williamson – defence secretary since 2017 – wrote he was “confident” that a “thorough and formal inquiry” would have “vindicated” his position.

“I appreciate you offering me the option to resign, but to resign would have been to accept that I, my civil servants, my military advisers or my staff were responsible: this was not the case,” he said.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said sources close to the former defence secretary had told her Mr Williamson did meet the Daily Telegraph’s deputy political editor, Steven Swinford, but, “that absolutely does not prove” he leaked the story to him.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight programme, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith called on Mrs May to “take absolutely firm action” and ask the police to undertake a “full investigation” into whether or not Mr Williamson breached the Official Secrets Act.

Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts, a cross-bench peer, told Newsnight that on the face of it, the leak was a breach of the act and police ought to be considering an inquiry.

The Liberal Democrats said its deputy leader Jo Swinson has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner calling for a criminal investigation “to ascertain whether the actions of Mr Williamson constitute a breach”.

Scotland Yard said in a statement that it was a matter for the National Security Council and the Cabinet Office, and it was not carrying out an investigation.

“Clearly, if at any stage we receive any information that would suggest criminal offences have been committed, then we will look into that,” it added.

Downing Street has made a very serious accusation and is sure enough to carry out this sacking.

For the prime minister’s allies, it will show that she is, despite the political turmoil, still strong enough to move some of her ministers around – to hire and fire.

Mr Williamson is strenuously still denying that the leak was anything to do with him at all.

There is nothing fond, or anything conciliatory, in either the letter from the prime minister to him, or his reply back to her.

Read more from Laura

The National Security Council is made up of senior cabinet ministers and its weekly meetings are chaired by the prime minister, with other ministers, officials and senior figures from the armed forces and intelligence agencies invited when needed.

It is a forum where secret intelligence can be shared by GCHQ, MI6 and MI5 with ministers, all of whom have signed the Official Secrets Act.

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There has been no formal confirmation of Huawei’s role in the 5G network and No 10 said a final decision would be made at the end of spring.

The US has been campaigning hard among allies to exclude the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from delivering 5G, because of its security concerns.

Huawei has denied there is any risk of spying or sabotage, or that it is controlled by the Chinese government.

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