The scandal of a leak from top-guarded National Security Council meeting has been apparently brought to justice: Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has been summarily sacked as the UK’s defence secretary. While leaks in Westminster are common - members of Mrs May’s cabinet have on several occasions leaked details from meetings to the press - leaks from meetings of the highly confidential National Security Council, which included top officials who are selected after diligent vetting. This caused much discomfort amongst the government as this one pertained to matters of national security.
The decision was made after an inquiry into an unprecedented leak of the decision to allow Huawei to build the country’s 5G networks. British Prime Minister Theresa May, in a letter to Mr Williamson, a former rising star in the Conservative party, said that there was compelling evidence which suggested he was to blame for the unauthorised disclosure. She noted that he had failed to engage with the leak inquiry and the leak cannot be explained by any other, credible version of events. She further added that given the seriousness of the issue, serious steps were needed to be taken so that, as it was imperative for her to have confidence in the members of her cabinet and of the National Security Council.
In response, Mr Williamson released a letter in which he strenuously denied the allegations against him and said that a formal inquiry would have vindicated his position. Separately, he accused Theresa May of conducting a “kangaroo court” against him and said he had been “screwed” by the prime minister as he protested his innocence. The day the National Security Council agreed to open up the country’s 5G network to Huawei partly, Mr Williamson had an 11-minute phone call with Steve Swinford, a Daily Telegraph journalist, about which he was confronted by Mrs May. He had served at the Ministry of Defence and as the government's chief whip.
A Downing Street spokesman said that his conduct surrounding the investigation had led to this decision by the prime minister. The leak from the National Security Council meeting last week caused significant embarrassment to the government as the NSC is chaired by Mrs May and brings together cabinet ministers and senior officials involved in foreign and defence policy. While, Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader, said that Mr Williamson should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if he had leaked from the NSC, Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for a criminal investigation. He also added that the matter should now be referred to the Metropolitan Police.
Earlier this month, Theresa May’s government had given permission to Huawei, a Chinese telecoms company, to build some non-core parts of Britain’s 5G data network, despite several warnings by its key ally the US. But the news broke to the media even before it was authorised to be made public, causing a severe backlash.
Penny Mordaunt, an enthusiastic Brexiter and former international development secretary, will replace Mr Williamson. She was a former minister for the armed forces and now is the country’s first female defence secretary.
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