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Ministers could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act over Huawei 5G leak

Image credit: reuters

Theresa May is facing pressure to call on the police to investigate the leak of secret government discussions that revealed the UK would allow Huawei to build parts of its 5G network after months of deliberation.

Huawei has been scrutinised for its close ties to the Chinese government and there have been concerns that they could allow them backdoor access to the UK’s networks.

Earlier this week the Daily Telegraph reported that the UK government would let them build “non-core” infrastructure as the next-generation networks take shape over the coming years.

But the decision was supposed to be kept secret and now an ultimatum has been issued to ministers over the leak, which involved the UK’s top national security body.

MPs denounced the unprecedented leak following Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) as “completely shocking” and called for action to find the perpetrator.

Reports have emerged that Whitehall’s most powerful official, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, has demanded ministers in attendance at the council meeting confess or deny if they were behind the leak.

The Guardian reported that Sedwill has written to order those present to tell him “immediately” whether they were involved.

Downing Street refused to say whether a leak inquiry was already under way but insisted the Prime Minister regarded the protection of information concerning national security as a “matter of the highest importance”.

Two Cabinet ministers – Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – publicly denied that they were responsible.

Sources close to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt have also denied they were involved.

However, former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said a Whitehall leak inquiry by civil servants was insufficient and that only a proper Scotland Yard investigation could get to the truth.

He said Cabinet ministers attending the meeting should have their mobile phones checked to see if they contacted journalists afterwards, and if anyone was found to be responsible they should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

A Met Police spokeswoman said she could neither confirm nor deny any police investigation had been requested or was under way and Downing Street sources refused to comment on security matters point blank.

Former minister Andrew Mitchell said Mrs May should order MI5 to conduct a full investigation, which could include interviewing Cabinet ministers if necessary.

The anger among MPs reflected concerns that the leak from the NSC – where senior ministers are briefed by intelligence chiefs from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – could damage intelligence-sharing relations with key allies.

Yesterday the government launched an online “cyber fitness” tool that will help local authorities, emergency services and small businesses shore up their online defences.  

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