Gavin Williamson sacking – fair or unfair?
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson’s firing following an investigation into leaked information from a National Security Council meeting is one of the more shocking things I’ve seen from our Government in recent years.
The investigation into the sharing of private information from the meeting came after details of Chinese company Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network were published in the Daily Telegraph. It’s very clearly Downing Street’s position that Mr Williamson was the source of the leak, but are they correct?
A statement from Downing Street, after Mr Williamson was fired for the leaked story, said: “The Prime Minister’s decision has been informed by his conduct surrounding an investigation into the circumstances of the unauthorised disclosure of information from a meeting of the National Security Council.”
What was leaked, and was it a breach of National Security and / or the Official Secrets Act?
Ministers had been discussing the UK’s 5G mobile network and whether Chinese company Huawei should be involved bearing in mind the worldwide concerns over their access to and treatment of personal data. According to the Daily Telegraph story, it was decided that Huawei could provide services to build “non-core” parts of the network only, and this is what caused the problem for ministers.
Theresa May chaired the National Security Council meeting at which Huawei’s potential involvement in the 5G mobile network contract was discussed, on April 23, made up of an inner-circle of senior ministers only.
These meetings are supposed to be highly confidential, and given the nature of the discussions and the profiles of those involved it’s easy to imagine that a leak from one of these meetings would almost never have been imagined nor discussed, as those invited would be seen as the most trustworthy members and least likely to cause a breach of security.
Because of this, and because of the extremely private nature of the meeting and the sensitive matters discussed, this meant that the leak of information to the Daily Telegraph was instantly seen as a serious breach. Ministers swiftly called for an investigation into who shared the details simply on that basis.
No information on how the investigating committee came to the belief that the fault lay with Mr Williamson has been released, so we’re left to only imagine that there must have been some kind of proof for the almost unimaginable step of firing the current Defence Secretary over a security breach to be enacted.
There were calls for the enquiry to be considered criminal and fears that information being divulged could lower trust in the UK from other countries. As yet, there seems to be no move towards a criminal enquiry however it should be noted that Mr Williamson himself has caused for just such an enquiry and stated that he would receive ‘the nicest apology’ if such an enquiry were to happen as he states with certainty that it would prove his innocence.
The controversy surrounding Huawei’s involvement made the leak worse, and caused significant embarrassment to the government. The United States had recently urged its allies to exclude Huawei from all 5G networks, noting that the Chinese government could force the company to give it backdoor access to data on its networks and had stated fairly emphatically that they believed the Chinese Government was using Huawei to spy on other countries and its citizens. The US even threatened that it could withhold security information from the UK should it use Huawei, although there has been no sign of this materialising.
There had been warnings that the company could pose a security threat for years and Mr Williamson was reportedly opposed to letting it work on Britain’s 5G network. The direct implication by firing Mr Williamson with no trial is that the Government believes he was acting on his opposition to the company by trying to stir up press and public interest against their involvement with the leaked story.
But is it fair to fire someone with no trial? In this instance I would suggest that the treatment meted out to Mr Williamson is unfair and bordering on criminally unfair. We, the British public, have the right to know what information was leaked, what effect it has had and of course, who was actually responsible. Looking from the outside it looks like Mr Williamson has been made into a scapegoat, and I’ll be watching with interest to see what legal action he’s inevitably going to take.
(Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48129280 and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48126974 and https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/gavin-williamson-huawei-leak-report-fired-defence-secretary-a8897106.html )