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British Prime Minister Theresa May fires Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson after Huawei leak

Key Points
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May has fired Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson following a leak from a National Security Council of the UK meeting regarding Chinese tech giant Huawei.
  • Williamson has denied that he was the source of the leak.
  • Downing Street named Penny Mordaunt as his replacement. Mordaunt will become the first woman to serve as the UK's defense secretary.
Gavin Williamson, U.K. defence secretary, arrives for a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers at number 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — British Prime Minister Theresa May has fired Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson following a leak from a National Security Council of the United Kingdom meeting regarding Chinese tech giant Huawei.

"The Prime Minister has this evening asked Gavin Williamson to leave the Government, having lost confidence in his ability to serve in the role of Defence Secretary and as a member of her Cabinet," Downing Street said in a statement Wednesday.

In a letter to Williamson, May wrote: "This is an extremely serious matter, and a deeply disappointing one ... That is why I commissioned the Cabinet Secretary to establish an investigation into the unprecedented leak from the NSC meeting last week."

May added that the investigation provided "compelling evidence suggesting your [Williamson] responsibility for the unauthorized disclosure. No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified."

The Daily Telegraph had reported that May approved letting Huawei help build the UK's 5G network, in spite of national security warnings from some of her senior advisors and American officials.

Williamson has denied that he was the source of the leak.

Following Williamson's dismissal, Downing Street announced Penny Mordaunt, the UK's international development secretary, as his replacement. Mordaunt will become the first woman to serve as the UK's defense secretary.

UK Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt leaves 10 Downing Street in central London after emergency Cabinet meeting.
Barcroft Media | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

The latest revelation comes as the U.S. seeks to persuade partners to ban Huawei products from 5G telecommunications networks, warning that the Chinese technology poses a national security risk.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, has previously said that if U.S. allies proceed with Huawei's equipment, intelligence cooperation could be undermined.

"One of the things that underlines an alliance is the ability to share information and when we share information with allies and partners we have to have common standards of information assurance. We have to be sure that our secrets are protected, whether it be intelligence or technology transfer," Dunford told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.

Echoing Dunford's sentiments, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told lawmakers that "China aims to steal its way to a China-controlled global technological infrastructure, including 5G."

"Huawei exemplifies the Chinese Communist Party's systemic, organized, and state-driven approach to achieve global leadership in advanced technology."

Last year, the Pentagon stopped selling mobile phones and modems made by Huawei and ZTE at stores on military bases around the world due to potential security risks.

"These devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel and mission," wrote Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn. The Pentagon reaffirmed Wednesday that its policy on banning the devices still stands.

Read more: Six top US intelligence chiefs caution against buying Huawei phones

The Director of National Intelligence, alongside the heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency testified before lawmakers last year on potential security risks posed by Huawei and ZTE.

"We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Christopher Wray told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

"It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage," Wray added.

Huawei and ZTE have previously denied allegations that their products are used to spy on Americans.