Sacked Gavin Williamson: 'I am not behind Huawei leak'

A man holds a smart phone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen in Moscow

A man holds a smart phone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen in Moscow

In a meeting with Mr Williamson on Wednesday evening, Theresa May told him she had information that provided "compelling evidence" that he was responsible for the unauthorised disclosure.

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".

BBC Political Editor Laura Kuennsberg, who tweeted the revelation just before 6pm, posted minutes later: "Williamson's team emphatically denied last week he had anything to do with the leak". It said several ministers, including Williamson, had opposed letting Huawei work on Britain's 5G network.

Many in the Conservative Party felt his promotion to defense minister was little more than a prize for his role as whip, which included brokering a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to prop up May's government.

With Williamson now identified as the culprit, Downing Street made clear that the leak inquiry has been shut down.

There is nothing fond, or anything conciliatory, in either the letter from the prime minister to him, or his reply back to her.

"It is vital that I have full confidence in the members of my Cabinet and of the National Security Council", May wrote in her letter to Williamson, which was released by her office.

Much of the anger around the leak from the NSC - where ministers are briefed by the heads of the intelligence agencies, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - reflects concern among MPs and officials that it could damage intelligence-sharing with key partners such as the US.

The government insists no decision has been made about that.

On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the United Kingdom and its businesses should exercise a certain degree of caution in cooperation with Chinese companies, such as Huawei, as they allegedly could be a threat to national security.

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"This is an extremely serious matter and a deeply disappointing one", she added, with Williamson now facing the possibility of a criminal probe.

"I am sorry that you feel recent leaks from the National Security Council originated in my department". You undertook to do so.

Williamson, who rose quickly up the ranks of the governing Conservative Party after backing May to become prime minister in 2016, denied responsibility. Rory Stewart, the cerebral former diplomat, will become the new worldwide development secretary.

"What I'm focused on is getting on with the job".

A number of opposition poltiicians have called for a criminal investigation.

"This story can not begin and end with dismissal from office", Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said following Williamson's departure.

The NSC is a forum in which senior cabinet ministers discuss top secret national security information, and the leak, first reported in national newspapers, sparked anger in parliament. Mordaunt will be Britain's first woman defense minister.

Williamson will be replaced as defence secretary by Brexiter Penny Mordaunt, widely regarded as another potential leadership contender, who has been global development secretary.

In a letter to the 42-year-old, who served as Defence Secretary for 18 months, the Prime Minister said: "Thank you for your time this evening".

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