Defence Secretary 'Blamed Security Officials' For National Security Council Leak Of Huawei Decision

Gavin Williamson initially lashed out by suggesting Cabinet Office secretariat responsible.

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has infuriated security officials by blaming Cabinet Office staff for the leak of sensitive discussions about the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The Cabinet minister, who vigorously denies being the source of the leak, was so furious when he heard a BBC report of the National Security Council deliberations that he initially lashed out by suggesting civil servants may have been responsible.

But he sparked Whitehall anger by suggesting that the Cabinet Office secretariat, experts who support the hugely confidential work of the NSC, could have breached the trust of colleagues.

Sir Mark Sedwill, who is both Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, has ordered a full leak inquiry into the affair, which was sparked when the Daily Telegraph reported that Theresa May had granted Huawei limited access to help build the UK’s 5G mobile phone network.

The paper claimed that the prime minister’s decision at the National Security Council was made despite concerns from some ministers present, including Williamson, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, home secretary Sajid Javid, international trade secretary Liam Fox and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt.

A string of Tory MPs has warned that allowing the Chinese firm any access at all would put British national security at risk as well as jeopardise intelligence sharing with the United States, which is firmly against Huawei getting any foothold on 5G networks.

Culture and digital secretary Jeremy Wright said on Thursday that he couldn’t rule out a police probe into the leak and Sedwill wrote to all ministers involved to warn them and their officials that he expected full co-operation into the identity of the culprit.

It is understood that Williamson has told colleagues he made plain his initial frustration after hearing the Huawei row reported on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning.

He had not seen the Telegraph story, it is claimed, and quickly realised he had made an error in implicating officials.

“Gavin was furious it had been leaked and wanted to find out who had leaked it,” a defence source told HuffPost UK.

Many MPs suspect that the leak was part of a campaign by one Cabinet minister to burnish their credentials for a future Tory leadership race, by wooing backbenchers with a tough anti-China message on cyber security.

Foreign secretary Hunt went on record on Thursday to condemn the leak, saying: “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.”

The Home Secretary also made plain he was not the source, saying the leaks should “absolutely” be investigated. His office said he “categorically denied” being the source of the leak.

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

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.”


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