UK PM May fires Defence Minister Williamson over Huawei leak
Robie de Guzman • May 2, 2019 • 1636
British Prime Minister Theresa May fired her Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, on Wednesday (May 1), saying an investigation suggested he was to blame for leaking discussions about Chinese telecoms company Huawei from her National Security Council (NSC).
Last week, it emerged that Britain would allow Huawei a restricted role in building parts of its 5G network, seeking a middle way in a bitter dispute between the United States and China over the next generation of communications technology.
The NSC is a forum in which senior Cabinet ministers discuss top secret national security information, and the leak sparked anger in parliament.
May wrote to Williamson that an investigation into the leaks had provided “compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure.”
Williamson had repeatedly denied that he was responsible for the leak.
May appointed International Development Minister Penny Mordaunt to succeed Williamson as Defence Secretary, and named Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to Mordaunt’s former role. (REUTERS)
Britain announced on Monday (July 20) it will suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in an escalation of its dispute with China over the introduction of a national security law for the former British colony.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told parliament the extradition treaty will be suspended immediately and an arms embargo will be extended to Hong Kong.
“We will not consider reactivating those arrangements, unless and until, there are clear and robust safeguards, which are able to prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the new national security legislation,” Raab said.
The ban is another nail in the coffin of what then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015 cast as a “golden era” of ties with China, the world’s second-largest economy.
London has been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and the perception that China did not tell the whole truth over the coronavirus outbreak.
Australia and Canada suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong earlier this month. (Reuters)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, risking the ire of China by signaling that the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker is no longer welcome in the West.
The seven-year lag will please British telecoms operators such as BT, Vodafone and Three, which had feared they would be forced to spend billions of pounds to rip out Huawei equipment much faster. But it will delay the roll out of 5G.
The decision was announced in parliament on Tuesday (July 14) by Johnson’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Oliver Dowden.
Dowden also confirmed Britain’s National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Johnson, has decided to ban the purchase 5G components from the end of this year.
The United States had long pushed Johnson to reverse a decision he made in January to grant Huawei a limited role in 5G.
London has also been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong and the perception China did not tell the whole truth over the coronavirus.
The cyber arm of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency, the National Cyber Security Centre, told ministers it could no longer guarantee the stable supply of Huawei gear after the United States imposed new sanctions on chip technology.
Telecoms companies will also be told to stop using Huawei in fixed-line fibre broadband within the next two years.
Dowden said the UK would be on an “irreversible path” for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from its 5G networks by the time of the next general election, currently scheduled for 2024.
Chi Onwurah of the opposition Labour party told lawmakers the government had been “incomprehensibly negligent” with its approach to 5G, Huawei and national security until making the decision, describing the situation as an economic “car crash” that “could have been visible from outer space.”
With faster data and increased capacity, 5G will become the nervous system of the future economy – carrying data on everything from global financial flows to critical infrastructure such as energy, defence and transport.
After Australia first recognised the destructive power of 5G if hijacked by a hostile state, the West has become steadily more worried about Huawei.
The United Kingdom said on Wednesday (July 1) that China’s imposition of a security law on Hong Kong was a “clear and serious” violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration and called on the People’s Republic to honor its international obligations.
“We have very carefully now assessed the contents of this national security legislation since it was published last night,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters and the BBC.
“It constitutes a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong, and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people, and therefore I’m afraid to say it is a clear and serious violation of the Joint Declaration treaty between the United Kingdom and China.”
Raab said he would set out shortly the action Britain would take with its international partners.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule – imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War. (Reuters)
(Production: Will Russell, Hanna Rantala, Polly Rider)
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