Britain’s splintered government was rocked Friday by a growing scandal over who leaked news that Prime Minister Theresa May has conditionally allowed Chinese giant Huawei to develop the UK 5G network.
The highly controversial decision was reportedly made at a meeting on Tuesday of Britain’s National Security Council despite opposition from some ministers who are seen as potential candidates to replace May.
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 all conversations private or risk prosecution.
But The Telegraph newspaper broke the news late Tuesday that May approved granting Huawei permission to build up “non-core” elements of Britain’s next-generation telecommunications network.
The United States is adamantly opposed to Huawei’s involvement because of the firm’s obligation under Chinese law to help its home government if asked, including in intelligence matters.
British media reported that Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the country’s most senior civil servant, gave those present an ultimatum until Thursday afternoon to deny responsibility for the leak.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson did so first.
Hunt called it “utterly appalling” and Williams described it as “completely unacceptable.”
They were soon joined by interior minister Sajid Javid, who like Hunt is one of the frontrunners to succeed May as Conservative Party leader, and at least one other attending cabinet member.
May herself said Thursday that she does not comment on National Security Council meetings.
Sky News reported Friday that the ongoing government inquiry into the source of the leak could become a formal criminal investigation.
Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell told BBC radio that the disclosure of National Security Council information was “incredibly serious” and a “complete outrage.”
“This is really important for the country, these issues are massively important,” he said.
May’s spokesperson said Wednesday that a formal decision on Huawei would be made by June.