Following a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday, details regarding Prime Minister Theresa May controversial decision to allow Huawei Technologies a restricted role in developing parts of Britain’s 5G network were leaked; the decision was made despite warnings from MI6 and allies that Chinese involvement poses a risk to national security.
National Security Council discussions are only attended by senior ministers and security officials who first sign the Official Secrets Act that commits them to keep conversations private or risk prosecution. The decision of giving China the sensitive role was strongly argued against by several ministers, some of whom are seen as likely candidates to replace PM May. Late Tuesday, London’s Daily Telegraph broke the news late that PM May approved granting Huawei permission to build up "non-core" elements of Britain's next-generation telecommunications network.
On Wednesday, PM May fired Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, suggested he was responsible for leaking information about Huawei. She has accused Mr. Williamson of failing to cooperate fully with a Whitehall investigation relating to the leaking of information from a meeting of the National Security Council. However, the Metropolitan Police said that while they are "aware of media reports" regarding the situation, "That is a matter for the National Security Council and the Cabinet Office to look at. At this time, we’re not carrying out an investigation." Mr. Williamson is the 38th person to have left the government in just over 12 months, and the sixth Cabinet Minister.
In his reply letter to the PM, Mr. Williamson wrote, "I am sorry that you feel recent leaks from the National Security Council originated in my Department. I emphatically believe this was not the case. I strenuously deny that I was in any way involved in this leak and I am confident that a thorough and formal inquiry would have vindicated my position."
PM May’s Huawei decision has the potential to open a rift between Britain and its most significant ally, the United States. Critics say the involvement of a Chinese company has the potential to undermine trust with other members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) and jeopardise national security. The US has argued that Huawei is legally obliged to co-operate with the Chinese Government and its intelligence agencies and adviser to the National Security Agency Rob Joyce suggested it is the equivalent of handing Beijing a "loaded gun".
5G is an evolution of current 4G network technology that will enable download speeds between 10 and 100 times faster than current rates. It will likely result in radical changes to both public services and the private sector, from home security systems, driverless cars, telemedicine, and automated manufacturing. 5G will help connect new technologies to the internet by opening up and adding significantly more radio spectrum at higher frequencies to consumers and businesses. Since 5G will create thousands more access points on the network, some of which will be connected to vital technologies like power stations or driverless cars, many more areas that can be attacked by hackers.
Huawei is one of the world’s leading companies building 5G technology and the Chinese company has come under scrutiny from the US government and security agencies over claims it is tied to the Chinese state. Huawei has repeatedly denied this, despite its founder Ren Zhengfei having previously been in the country’s army and joined the Communist Party in 1978. This has led to debate raging across Europe over whether countries should allow Huawei to build their 5G networks.