UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was reportedly fired from his position on 1 May 2019 following an inquiry into a leak from a top-level National Security Council (NSC) meeting.
The leak in question concerned an alleged plan to allow embattled Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei limited access to help build the UK’s new 5G network recently reported in the country’s national news.
Williamson, who had been defence secretary since 2017, is said to have “strenuously” denied leaking the information after Prime Minister Theresa May told him in an evening meeting that she had information that provided “compelling evidence” that he was responsible.
In a letter confirming his dismissal, she reportedly said: “No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”
Responding via a letter to May, Williamson said he was “confident” that a “thorough and formal inquiry” would have “vindicated” his position, adding that while he appreciated being offered “the option to resign”, to do so would be to accept that he, his civil servants, military advisors or staff were responsible, which he maintained “was not the case”.
The inquiry into the leak began after British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported on the Huawei decision and subsequent warnings within the cabinet concerning possible risks to national security over a deal with the company.
The NSC is comprised of senior cabinet ministers and its weekly meetings are chaired by the prime minister. Other ministers, officials, and senior figures from the country’s armed forces and intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) are invited when needed.
It is intended to be a secure forum in which secret intelligence gathered by the aforementioned agencies can be shared with ministers, all of whom will have signed the Official Secrets Act.
There has been no formal confirmation of any role for Huawei in the UK’s development of a 5G network and the office of the prime minister reportedly said that a decision in the matter would be made at the end of spring. Huawei has denied that there is any risk of spying or sabotage if it is included in the UK’s plans.
The company was founded by Chinese businessman Ren Zhengfei in 1987 with a meagre investment of US$5,600. It has since become the world’s biggest telecoms equipment firm, with $107 billion in revenue and customers in 170 countries and regions in 2018.
Besides producing cutting edge smartphones, Huawei is at the forefront of the revolutionary 5G technology. It’s growing geostrategic importance has placed it at the centre of a brewing tech cold war between the US and China with several major countries banning the company’s new technology from domestic infrastructure over allegations of spying and ties to China’s communist party.
Naturally, Ren denies that Huawei has any links to the Chinese government and attributes the company’s growth to unparalleled customer service.