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May faces backlash over defense secretary sacking

By Angus McNeice | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-02 23:51

Calls for police investigation into Huawei leak

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson leaves Downing Street following an eight hour cabinet meeting in London, Britain, April 2, 2019. [Photo/IC]

Members of Parliament have called on the United Kingdom government to open a criminal inquiry into a major security leak which led to the firing of Gavin Williamson as defense secretary.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May fired Williamson on Wednesday after an investigation implicated him in the unauthorized disclosure of information regarding Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.

Last week, Williamson, May and other members of the National Security Council, or NCS, met to determine if Huawei should be allowed to participate in building Britain's 5G infrastructure.

Before any formal announcement was made, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the NCS had given Huawei the green light, triggering an investigation into how the information had got out.

May said the investigation "provides compelling evidence" to suggest that Williamson was responsible for the unauthorized disclosure, and that "no other credible version of events" had been identified that could explain the leak.

Investigators confirmed that Williamson conducted an 11-minute phone call with a Telegraph journalist following the NCS meeting last week. Williamson denied having discussed Huawei or 5G during the call.

Williamson also denied that his department had any involvement in the leak, and questioned the thoroughness of the investigation. In a later interview with Sky News, Williamson intimated that his firing was politically motivated.

May faced heavy criticism over her handling of Williamson's dismissal from both her own party and political opponents in Parliament on Thursday.

The question at the heart of the debate is whether the leak qualifies as a breach of the Official Secrets Act, or OAS, which concerns the damaging disclosure of any information relating to security or intelligence. Such a breach is a criminal offence.

Deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party Tom Watson questioned why May would fire Williamson but stop short of referring the case to the police.

"The Prime Minister has sacked the Secretary of State for Defense because she believes there is compelling evidence that he has committed a crime. But despite that, she does not believe he should face a criminal investigation - where is the justice in that?" said Watson.

"In what world is it acceptable that the Prime Minister should be the arbiter of whether a politician she believes is guilty of criminal conduct in office should face a criminal investigation?"

In Parliament, Conservative member Philip Hollobone posed the question:"if a leak from the NSC is not a breach of the Official Secrets Act, what is?"

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said that determining if the OSA has been broken depends on the type of information involved.

"The Prime Minister has said she now considers that this matter has been closed, and the Cabinet Secretary does not consider it necessary to refer it to the police, but we would of course cooperate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary," Lidington said.

However, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said that the police will not open any investigation without a referral from the Cabinet Office.

"Suffice to say if the Cabinet Office were to send us a referral at any point that relates to apparent official secrets or leaks, we would assess that," she said. "But that is hypothetical because we have not had any referral from the Cabinet Office."

In December, Williamson said he had "very deep concerns" about Huawei building network infrastructure in the UK, and MPs and security officials in the UK remain divided over the issue.

The UK National Cyber Security Centre said it has found no evidence to support the claim made by the United States that Huawei is involved in digital espionage. Meanwhile, some British politicians are concerned that the UK will erode trust with its intelligence allies if it does not join New Zealand and Australia in a US-led boycott of the Chinese company.

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