Theresa May is facing demands for a full police inquiry into the leak of secret discussions by the UK’s top national security body.
Furious MPs denounced the unprecedented disclosures following Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) as “completely shocking” and called for action to find the perpetrator.
Downing Street refused to say whether a leak inquiry was already under way, but insisted the Prime Minister regarded the protection of information concerning national security as a “matter of the highest importance”.
However, former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said a Whitehall leak inquiry by civil servants was insufficient and that only a proper Scotland Yard investigation could get to the truth.
He said Cabinet ministers attending the meeting should have their mobile phones checked to see if they contacted journalists afterwards, and if anyone was found to be responsible they should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.
The anger among MPs reflected concerns that the leak from the NSC – where senior ministers are briefed by intelligence chiefs from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – could damage intelligence-sharing relations with key allies.
It followed a report in The Daily Telegraph that Mrs May – who chaired the meeting – had overridden the objections of key ministers to give the green light for Chinese tech giant Huawei to participate in the UK’s 5G communications network.
Five ministers – Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – were reported as having expressed concern.
MPs immediately linked the disclosure to the manoeuvrings around the Tory leadership, with whoever was responsible seeking to burnish their credentials as being “tough on China”.
At a lunch for Westminster journalists, Mr Hunt flatly denied that it was him.
“I think it is utterly appalling that that should happen,” he said.
“I have never leaked confidential Cabinet discussions and I never will.”
Sir Michael said it was now essential that National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police.
“That would involve a proper Scotland Yard investigation of all those who attended the meetings, all those who have mobile phones – whether they contacted journalists after meeting,” he told the BBC.
“Ministers are subject to the Official Secrets Act just like anybody else. It is an offence to divulge secret information from the most secret of all government bodies, which is the National Security Council. It has got to be stopped.
“It is extraordinary to think that a minister can leak details of the National Security Council and then think they can get away with it. That is why a police inquiry now is so important.”