UK defense chief fired over Huawei leaks, denies involvement

Jill Lawless
Associated Press
In this grab taken from video, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gestures as she gives evidence to the Liaison Select Committee, in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday May 1, 2019.

London – British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson was summarily fired Wednesday after an investigation into leaks from a secret government meeting about the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, but he denied any involvement in the case.

An investigation was launched last week after newspapers reported that Britain’s National Security Council, which meets in private, had agreed to let Huawei participate in some aspects of Britain’s new 5G wireless communications network.

The Conservative government insists that no decision has been made yet about Huawei.

The security council includes senior ministers, who receive briefings from top military and intelligence officials, and its meetings are considered highly sensitive.

In a letter to Williamson, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she “can no longer have full confidence” in Williamson in the wake of the investigation.

In the letter released by her Downing St. office, May told Williamson that there was “compelling evidence” suggesting his “responsibility for the unauthorized disclosure” from the National Security Council.

“No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified,” she said.

But Williamson, 42, denied he was the source of the leak in a letter posted on Twitter. He said he was confident that a formal and thorough inquiry would have vindicated him.

He says that he appreciated being offered a chance to resign but “to resign would have been to accept that I, my civil servants, my military advisers or my staff were responsible: this was not the case.”

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, was appointed to replace Williamson. She becomes the first woman to hold the post.

The United States has been lobbying allies like Britain to exclude Huawei from all 5G networks, noting that the Chinese government can force the company to give it backdoor access to data on its networks.

The leak at the security council comes amid a Brexit-fueled breakdown in government discipline. With May weakened by her failure so far to take Britain out of the European Union, multiple ministers are positioning themselves to try to replace her, partly by cultivating positive press coverage.

The Daily Telegraph said last week it had obtained details of security council meetings about Huawei. It said several ministers, including Williamson, had opposed letting Huawei work on Britain’s 5G network.