A few weeks ago, the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, was at the centre of a growing cabinet row as senior government sources blamed him for offending the Chinese and causing the cancellation of a crucial trade visit to Beijing by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
At the time senior Conservatives said it was time to rein in Williamson, who has earned the nickname Private Pike in Whitehall after a series of gaffes. Treasury insiders said comments the defence secretary had made in a speech about sending the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific had caused such “clear irritation” in Beijing that the trip was cancelled.
Today, Williamson finds himself out of a job, supposedly for “leaking” to the press the cabinet meeting to discuss the controversial Chinese spyware tech firm, Huawei, which he strenuously denies.
He was sacked following an investigation into the leak of information from the National Security Council. A statement said Theresa May’s decision was “informed by his conduct”, following an inquiry into the leak. She had “lost confidence in his ability to serve” in his role, No 10 said.
The inquiry followed reports that ministers had raised concerns over a plan to allow Huawei limited access to help build the UK’s new 5G network. However it is now emerging that several former Conservative government ministers have direct links with Huawei roles:
Lord Browne: David Cameron’s Cabinet Office Non-Executive Director, now Chairman of Huawei UK.
Sir Andrew Cahn: Cameron’s Head of UK Trade & Investments, now Board Member of Huawei UK.
John Suffolk: David Cameron’s Chief Information Officer, now Huawei’s Senior Vice President & Global Cyber Security and Privacy Officer.
Mr Williamson has been defence secretary – his first cabinet role – since 2017 in the wake of Sir Michael Fallon’s sudden resignation.
The inquiry into the National Security Council leak began after a Daily Telegraph report on warnings within cabinet about possible risks to national security over a deal with Huawei.
The National Security Council (NSC) is made up of senior cabinet ministers and its weekly meetings are chaired by the prime minister, with other ministers, officials and senior figures from the armed forces and intelligence agencies invited when needed.
It is a forum where secret intelligence can be shared by GCHQ, MI6 and MI5 with ministers, all of whom have signed the Official Secrets Act.
There has been no formal confirmation of Huawei’s role in the 5G network and No 10 said a final decision would be made at the end of spring.
Huawei has denied there is any risk of spying or sabotage, or that it is controlled by the Chinese government.