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Gavin Williamson sacked: Theresa May fires defence secretary over Huawei leak

Dramatic firing comes after huge inquiry into leak from National Security Council – and could end in a criminal prosecution

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 01 May 2019 19:22 BST
Theresa May sacks Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary

Gavin Williamson has been sacked as defence secretary after being named as the source of the Huawei leak.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Theresa May had “lost confidence in his ability to serve in the role of defence secretary and as a member of her cabinet”.

“The prime minister’s decision has been informed by his conduct surrounding an investigation into the circumstances of the unauthorised disclosure of information from a meeting of the National Security Council,” a statement said.

The dramatic announcement comes after a huge leak inquiry launched by Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, following last week’s leak of the apparent decision to give Huawei a role in building the UK’s 5G network.

The move has angered the US, which has banned Huawei from government networks. America has put pressure on the UK to do the same, over fears – denied by Huawei – that it is a vehicle for Chinese government spies.

Mr Williamson was among five cabinet ministers reported to have raised concerns at the National Security Council (NSC) meeting, which is meant to be top secret.

He made no immediate statement on his sacking, but is thought to deny his guilt and believe his firing was “politically motivated”.

The once rising star could still face a criminal prosecution over his actions – which would almost certainly force him to resign his seat and trigger a by-election. A breach of the Official Secrets Act can bring a two-year prison sentence.

Only last week, Mr Williamson issued a statement denying that either he, or any member of his team, had been responsible for any leak.

All ministers on the NSC, and their special advisers, have been interrogated in the days since, with some ordered to hand in mobile phones to be swept for contacts with The Daily Telegraph, which obtained the leak.

The prime minister quickly appointed Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary – and a Portsmouth MP with navy connections – as his replacement. She is the first woman in the post.

In a damning letter to Mr Williamson, Ms May wrote that “no other credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified”.

The prime minister said the leak inquiry had “been conducted fairly, with the full co-operation of other NSC attendees”.

“They have all answered questions, engaged properly, provided as much information as possible to assist with the investigation, and encouraged their staff to do the same,” she wrote, adding: “Your conduct has not been of the same standard as others.”

Ms May continued: “In our meeting this evening, I put to you the latest information from the investigation, which provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure. No other credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.

“It is vital that I have full confidence in the members of my cabinet and of the National Security Council. The gravity of this issue alone, and its ramifications for the operation of the NSC and the UK’s national interest, warrants the serious steps we have taken, and an equally serious response.”

The No 10 statement added that the prime minister now “considers the matter closed” – although MPs of all parties are unlikely to let the controversy rest.

The NSC, which is chaired by Ms May, is thought to have agreed to allow Huawei limited access to build “noncore” infrastructure for 5G, such as antennas.

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