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Information leaked from the NCS earlier this week revealed the involvement of the controversial Chinese firm, Huawei, in establishing a 5G network in the UK.
Following an investigation into the source of the leak, Downing Street issued a statement announcing the sacking of the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, stating:
“The prime minister has this evening asked Gavin Williamson to leave the government, having 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.”
“The prime minister thanks all members of the National Security Council for their full cooperation and candour during the investigation and considers the matter closed.”
In a brutal dismissal letter, Theresa May also told Williamson that she was “concerned by the manner in which [he had] engaged with this investigation“, going on to state that:
“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.”
Numerous governments around the world have already banned telecoms companies from using Huawei’s technology in relation to establishing 5G networks, citing security risks.
The firm’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, is a former People’s Liberation Army officer, and many nations have expressed worries about his links to the Chinese regime.
Some believe that allowing the firm access to vital communication networks may leave them open to espionage or network disruption in the event of any potential conflict.
Furthermore, China recently enacted the National Intelligence Law, which compels Chinese telecoms firms to “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work“.
Despite widespread concerns around security, information leaked from a meeting of the NCS revealed that the UK government had agreed to allow Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network.
The NCS is a forum where secret information from GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 are discussed by senior members of the Cabinet, military and intelligence agencies.
All members of the NCS are sworn to secrecy, and must sign the Official Secrets Act before being allowed access.
The penalty for breaking the UK Official Secrets Act can amount to two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both.
Williamson has been immediately replaced as Defence Secretary by Penny Mordaunt, who becomes the first woman to ever hold the office.
You can read Theresa May’s letter to Gavin Williamson in full below:
10 DOWNING STREET LONDON SW1A 2AA
THE PRIME MINISTER 1 May 2019
Thank you for your time this evening. We discussed the investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of information from the National Security Council meeting on 23 April.
This is an extremely serious matter, and a deeply disappointing one. It is vital for the operation of good government and for the UK’s national interest in some of the most sensitive and important areas that the members of the NSC — from our Armed Forces, our Security and Intelligence Agencies, and the most senior level of Government — are able to have frank and detailed discussions in full confidence that the advice and analysis provided is not discussed or divulged beyond that trusted environment.
That is why I commissioned the Cabinet Secretary to establish an investigation into the unprecedented leak from the NSC meeting last week, and why I expected everyone connected to it — Ministers and officials alike — to comply with it fully. You undertook to do so.
I am therefore concerned by the manner in which you have engaged with this investigation. It has 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. Your conduct has not been of the same standard as others’.
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.
It is therefore with great sadness that I have concluded that I can no longer have full confidence in you as Secretary of State for Defence and a Minister in my Cabinet and asked you to leave Her Majesty’s Government.
As you do so, I would like to thank you for the wider contribution you have made
to it over the last three years, and for your unquestionable personal commitment to the men and women of our Armed Forces.