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Williamson: Investigation into Huawei leak a shabby and discredited witch hunt

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu ‘satisfied’ the details disclosed did not ‘contain information that would breach the Official Secrets Act’

Gavin Williamson (Joe Giddens/PA)
Gavin Williamson (Joe Giddens/PA)

Gavin Williamson has described an investigation into the leak of information from a top-secret meeting of the National Security Council as a “shabby and discredited witch hunt” and called for a probe into it.

The Metropolitan Police said the disclosure did not amount to a criminal offence, but the former defence secretary accused Prime Minister Theresa May and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill of badly mishandling the inquiry.

He said: “With the Metropolitan Police not willing to do a criminal investigation it is clear a proper, full and impartial investigation needs to be conducted on this shabby and discredited witch hunt that has been so badly mishandled by both the Prime Minister and Mark Sedwill.”

Mr Williamson was sacked on Wednesday over his alleged involvement in the leak of information about Chinese tech giant Huawei, and has previously called for a criminal investigation which he believed would “absolutely exonerate” him.

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said on Saturday that he was “satisfied” that the details disclosed to the media did not “contain information that would breach the Official Secrets Act”.

Mr Basu said he had spoken to the Cabinet Office regarding the nature of the material discussed in the meeting and had taken legal advice.

“I am satisfied that the disclosure did not amount to a criminal offence, either under the Official Secrets Act or Misconduct in a Public Office. No crime has been committed and this is not a matter for the police,” he said in a statement.

“Any organisation has the right to conduct an internal investigation into conduct in the workplace. It is not a matter for the police unless a crime is alleged.

“At no time have the police been provided with evidence by the Cabinet Office that a crime has been committed nor has it been suggested that a Gateway process would be required to enable that determination to be made.

“No crime has been alleged by the owner of the material and I am clear that the leak did not cause damage to the public interest at a level at which it would be necessary to engage misconduct in a public office. It would be inappropriate to carry out a police investigation in these circumstances.”

Opposition parties had called on Mrs May to refer the matter to the police for a criminal investigation, after Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Scotland Yard would not launch an inquiry unless the case was referred to them by the Government.

Leaked reports of a meeting of the National Security Council last month suggested that Theresa May had cleared Huawei to be involved in “non-core” elements of the 5G network, such as antennae.

According to reports in the Daily Telegraph, Mrs May overruled five ministers who expressed concern that the company’s involvement might provide a route for Chinese spying and undermine allies’ confidence in the security of UK communications.

The PM told ITV News on Friday: “I did take a difficult decision. This was not about what was leaked, it was about where it was leaked from. It was the importance of the question of trust around that National Security Council table.”

Asked if she was convinced Mr Williamson was responsible for the leak of information about the NSC meeting, Mrs May said: “I took the decision that I did. That was the right decision.”

Several Tory MPs aired their anger at the handling on the inquiry following Mr Williamson’s sacking, including Conservative backbencher Peter Bone who said he had been “found guilty in secret” in a “kangaroo court”, as he called for an independent inquiry into the probe.

“I think it more and more looks like there was a rushed judgment. If the police don’t think there’s an offence it does rather put a question mark on why the Secretary of State was fired,” he told the Press Association.

“It smells this investigation, and it looks like for whatever reason they wanted to get rid of the defence secretary.”

And Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson told the Press Association: “It’s good to hear that there was no breach of the OSA, but that doesn’t change the facts of what happened.

“An official investigation found that there was compelling evidence that Gavin Williamson leaked details from the NSC. Given that, why does Theresa May think it appropriate that Gavin Williamson maintains the Tory party whip?”

But Mr Williamson, an avid user of social media site Instagram, struck an upbeat tone following his dismissal, posting a photograph of him eating at McDonalds on Friday instead of attending a cancelled dinner with the US defence secretary.

Smiling alongside chips and a soft drink, he wrote: “So the plan had been for dinner this evening with the US Defence Secretary at Lancaster House. Obviously things change and you just can’t beat a @mcdonalds#mcdonalds #food.”

In what has been seen by some as a thinly veiled dig at Mrs May, he tweeted a photograph of Margaret Thatcher on the 40th anniversary of her election as prime minister, saying she demonstrated her “passion, commitment and courage to stand up for her values, party and country”.



From Belfast Telegraph