Huawei leak: cabinet ministers deny security breach

Investigators want to know who revealed details of this week’s National Security Council meeting

Huawei conference
Former MI6 operative Christopher Steele claims Beijing tried to enlist Britain’s elite to back tech firm’s 5G network deal
(Image credit: Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

Britain’s top civil servant has written to members of the cabinet demanding to know whether they leaked information from a meeting of the National Security Council earlier this week.

Sir Mark Sedwell made the request after details of discussions about whether to allow Chinese telecoms firm Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G phone network were reported in The Daily Telegraph.

Although leaks from cabinet meetings are common, says the BBC, information from the National Security Council has never previously been made public. Several cabinet ministers have denied they were responsible for the leak.

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Sir Mark’s move comes at an “acutely sensitive time”, The Guardian reports, as several of the cabinet ministers present are vying to succeed Theresa May as prime minister. The Telegraph says the row has become a “proxy battleground for Tory leadership rivals” with Tory MPs hoping to use it to “kill off the leadership hopes of ministers they do not support”.

Following Tuesday's meeting, the Telegraph revealed that the NSC had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build Britain's new 5G network, despite warnings about possible risks to national security. Huawei has denied any involvement in spying or sabotage and rejected claims that it is controlled by the Chinese government.

Ministerial denials

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, set off a scramble to deny responsibility for the leak yesterday, insisting said that neither he nor any of his team had disclosed details of the meeting and describing the leak as “utterly appalling”.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, soon followed: “Neither I nor any of my team have divulged information from the National Security Council,” he said. Aides to Penny Mordaunt, the development secretary, and Liam Fox, the trade secretary, then issued their own denials.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, said the indiscretion was “completely unacceptable and it should be looked at”.

Former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell said the security services should be called in to investigate.

Sensitive decisions

The National Security Council is comprised of senior cabinet ministers. Its weekly meetings are chaired by the prime minister, with other ministers, officials and senior figures from the armed forces and intelligence agencies sometimes invited.

There has been no official confirmation that Huawei will play a role in the 5G network. Downing Street said a final decision would be made at the end of spring.

Theresa May said: “We want to ensure we see greater resilience in our telecoms network and that we are able to provide high levels of cyber security, but we also see diversity of suppliers.”

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