Theresa May has defended her decision to sack Gavin Williamson as defence secretary after an inquiry found “compelling evidence” that he leaked information from the National Security Council (NSC).
Details of a decision to green-light a bid by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network found their way into the media last month, and Mr Williamson was subsequently dismissed after a meeting with the prime minister.
He has since denied he was responsible for the information becoming public, but the prime minister told Sky News she has confidence the inquiry that led to him being fired was “properly conducted”.
Mrs May said: “The investigation was conducted properly and was about the fact that something was leaked from the NSC, and the importance of everybody around that table having trust when they come together in those meetings.
“The importance of this was not about the information that was leaked, it was where it was leaked from. This was about the NSC and trust in the NSC.”
Following calls for a police investigation into the leak, Mr Williamson told Sky News that he would get the “nicest apology” from the prime minister if one went ahead.
He said he was “massively comfortable” with the prospect, adding that he was “visibly shocked” when he was informed of the decision to sack him and challenged Mrs May to give him a copy of the report that led to his dismissal.
Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby put Mr Williamson’s plea for the report to Mrs May, who refused to answer directly but added she was confident his sacking was justified.
“This was an inquiry that was properly conducted, it was conducted in the way that one would expect an inquiry of this sort to be conducted,” she said.
“As a result, I took the decision that it was necessary for the then secretary of state for defence to leave his post.”
Speaking to Sky News, Justice Secretary David Gauke repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether Mr Williamson should be able to see the inquiry report, insisting it was “a matter for the prime minister”.
He also argued the disclosure of information had not been a criminal offence but was “not acceptable behaviour” given where it had come from.
Mr Gauke said: “If the prime minister does not have trust in a cabinet colleague then she’s entitled to dismiss that cabinet colleague and that’s what’s happened here.”
He added: “It’s not so much a matter of a criminal offence, it is a matter of a breach of trust and that is more of an employment issue rather than a legal issue.”
There has been no official confirmation from the government that it does plan to allow Huawei to play a key role in the development of 5G in the UK, amid concerns it could enable spying by the Chinese government.
Australia, New Zealand and the US are among the western nations to have barred the company from supplying vital elements of their infrastructure, and Canada could follow suit.
Following reports that the NSC had decided to allow Huawei to be involved in Britain, Downing Street said: “We don’t comment on NSC discussions.”
A member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has warned it is “certainly possible” that Washington could cut off security co-operation with the UK if the government involved Huawei in the UK’s 5G network.
Democrat senator Chris Coons said the withdrawal of co-operation should happen only as a “last resort” after careful consultation, but made clear it was an option that would have to be considered.