Criminal Inquiry Into Huawei Leak Now Possible, Cabinet Minister Declares

Culture and media secretary Jeremy Wright made an emergency statement to MPs.

Theresa May’s Cabinet are facing a possible police probe after the leak of classified information about the security risk posed by Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, a government minister has revealed.

Culture and media secretary Jeremy Wright told MPs that he could not rule out a criminal investigation into the unprecedented breach of confidentiality from the National Security Council (NSC).

Downing Street refused to confirm or deny reports that Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill had sent a “strongly worded” letter to ministers involved, warning them that he was launching an official leak inquiry.

No.10 and intelligence chiefs are gravely concerned by the leak to the Daily Telegraph, which claimed that the prime minister had defied ministers to authorise a role for Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G mobile phone network.

Up to 10 Cabinet ministers were present for the NSC meeting on Tuesday.

The Telegraph reported that defence secretary Gavin Williamson, home secretary Sajid Javid, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, international development secretary Penny Mordaunt and international trade secretary Liam Fox all expressed concerns at the risk posed by the firm.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told a Commons lunch event on Thursday: “Look, I think it is utterly appalling that it should happen. A really, really bad thing for decision making in the government.

“As I think everyone here knows, I have never leaked cabinet discussions and I never will and I don’t want to comment further on it. I do think it is a very bad day for our democratic processes when something like that happens.”

Williamson has also denied that he or his team had leaked the information.

Forced by Labour to make an emergency statement to the Commons, Wright was repeatedly asked whether a criminal inquiry would be held into a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act.

“We cannot exclude the possibility of a criminal investigation here,” Wright said.

Tory MP Victoria Prentis, an aide to fellow Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, asked whether MPs should “choose our words very carefully” on Huawei as the leak could “become the subject of a criminal prosecution”.

Wright replied: “Everybody will want to take seriously that suggestion.”

Pressed further by Labour MPs on the prospect of a police probe, he added: “I cannot rule it out nor can anyone else.

“It’s a matter for the investigating and then prosecuting authorities to consider. I think the leak can be condemned by all of us, whether it is proceeded against in a criminal way or not.”

Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jo Platt was scathing in the Commons about the row.

“If a minister did leak the information, they are not fit to serve in the Cabinet - and are certainly not fit to be prime minister,” she said.

“Indeed, if the leak was for an advantage in a Tory leadership race that would be truly shocking.”

Both ministers and Tory backbenchers have warned privately and publicly that Huawei’s close links to the Communist regime in Beijing make it a real cyber spying threat.

Senior Conservatives also claim that pressing ahead with even limited access will jeopardise the UK’s special relationship with the US and other members of the ‘five eyes’ intelligence alliance with Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

British intelligence chiefs have stressed that they will take a ‘managed risk’ approach to the issue.

SOPA Images via Getty Images