Government ‘will co-operate’ with any police inquiry into Huawei leak

The Government will “co-operate fully” with any police investigation into the leak of official secrets from the National Security Council, Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington has said.

A day after the dramatic sacking of Gavin Williamson as defence secretary, Mr Lidington and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stressed it was a matter for police and not politicians to decide whether there should be a criminal investigation.

Mr Williamson has strenuously denied being behind the leak of NSC discussions about Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s potential involvement in the UK’s 5G network, saying he would “swear on my children’s lives” he was not to blame.

Responding to an urgent question from Labour, Mr Lidington told the Commons: “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 co-operate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary.”

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said: “In response to receiving the most brutal sacking I can think of, (Mr Williamson) has protested his innocence. Therefore this matter cannot be, as the Prime Minister says, closed.

“The essential point here is the Prime Minister has sacked the secretary of state for defence 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?

“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?”

Gavin Williamson sacked
Gavin Williamson sacked

In press briefings in the hours after his dismissal, Mr Williamson claimed he had been the victim of a “kangaroo court” investigation by Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill.

He said he would welcome a police probe, which he believes would have “absolutely exonerated” him.

Scotland Yard said it was not carrying out an investigation, although it would look into any information “that would suggest criminal offences have been committed”.

Responding to a question from the Press Association during a visit to Ethiopia, Mr Hunt said: “Let me say that, when it comes to issues like whether there should be a police investigation or not, there’s a very, very important principle of our system that those decisions are not made by politicians, they are made independently by police.

“And that has to be the correct way forward in this situation.”

Mr Williamson’s abrupt firing as head of the Ministry of Defence sent shockwaves around Westminster on Wednesday after Mrs May said the inquiry had found “compelling evidence” suggesting he was to blame.

Cabinet resignations and dismissals 1998-2019
Cabinet resignations and dismissals 1998-2019

The PM also said she was “concerned” by the the way he engaged with the inquiry.

But Mr Williamson denied he or anyone on his team was behind the leak and insisted he had fully complied with the probe.

“I volunteered everything up. I couldn’t have volunteered more information on the whole thing,” he told The Times.

“Frankly I’d rather have had a police inquiry, because the beauty of a police inquiry is I’d have been absolutely exonerated and would have been in the clear.”

In a letter, Mr Williamson said he rejected an offer from Mrs May to resign rather than be sacked, saying this would have sent a signal that he accepted either he or his team was guilty.

— Gavin Williamson MP (@GavinWilliamson) May 1, 2019

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported the leak, he said he had been “completely screwed”.

“She has got the wrong person and the person who did leak this is still out there,” he said.

The PM’s dramatic firing of her one-time close ally came on the eve of local elections across England and Northern Ireland on Thursday.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson has written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick calling for a criminal investigation.

The letter said: “I am writing to ask you to open a criminal investigation to ascertain whether the actions of Mr Williamson constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.”

Ex-Army chief General Lord Dannatt defended Mr Williamson’s performance as defence secretary.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “He got £1.8 billion extra in the Budget last year and was continuing to argue the case for more resources in the Spending Review and he was fighting his corner.

“Yes, he made some mistakes, he made some gaffes, and said some things that he probably regretted, but on the whole he was doing a good job.”

Lord Dannatt said Mr Williamson was “very much protesting his innocence” when he spoke to him by phone on Wednesday night following his sacking.

“He has to protest his innocence over this, otherwise he is laying himself open to potentially criminal prosecution,” he added.