2 May 2019

UK defence secretary sacked over Huawei leak

6:37 am on 2 May 2019

Britain's defence secretary Gavin Williamson has been sacked following an inquiry into a leak from a National Security Council meeting.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street, April 2019.

Gavin Williamson Photo: AFP

Downing Street said the PM had "lost confidence in his ability to serve" and Penny Mordaunt would take on the defence role.

The inquiry followed reports over a plan to allow Huawei limited access to help build the UK's new 5G network.

Mr Williamson, who has been defence secretary since 2017, "strenuously" denies leaking the information.

In a meeting with Mr Williamson on Wednesday evening, Theresa May told him she had information that provided "compelling evidence" 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."

Responding in a letter to the PM, Mr Williamson said 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 Mr Williamson was "sticking to his story that it was nothing to do with him".

She said the leak from the security council was "unusual" and "clearly she (the PM) felt that she had to take action in this case".

But security correspondent Frank Gardner said the BBC had been told that "more than one concerning issue" had been uncovered regarding Mr Williamson during the leak inquiry and not just the Huawei conversation.

The inquiry into the National Security Council leak began after a Daily Telegraph report on the Huawei decision and subsequent warnings within cabinet about possible risks to national security over a deal with Huawei.

The National Security Council (NSC) 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.

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.

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

Mrs May said the leak from the meeting on 23 April was "an extremely serious matter and a deeply disappointing one".

Ms Mordaunt becomes the first woman to take the role of defence secretary.

Rory Stewart has been confirmed as the new international development secretary, taking over from Ms Mordaunt.


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