Hunt undermines PM's attempt to draw line under Williamson firing

Hunt undermines PM's attempt to draw line under Williamson firing

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has appeared to undermine Theresa May’s attempt to draw a line under the sacking of the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, over the Huawei leak, by saying the police should decide whether to launch a criminal investigation.

Downing Street said it considered the matter closed despite growing calls for a police investigation into whether Williamson leaked official secrets about a National Security Council decision to grant the Chinese firm Huawei a role in the UK’s 5G network.

And now Hunt has fuelled those calls. Speaking at a world press freedom day forum in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, he said: “When it comes to issues like whether there should be a police investigation or not, there’s a very, very important principle of our system that those decisions are not made by politicians, they are made independently by police.

“And that has to be the correct way forward in this situation.”

Scotland Yard said it was not carrying out an inquiry, but added it would look into any information “that would suggest criminal offences have been committed”. Downing Street said the prime minister “considers the matter to be closed”.

May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, told MPs on Thursday: “The prime minister has said that she now considers that this matter has been closed and the cabinet secretary does not consider it necessary to refer it to the police, but we would of course cooperate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary.”

Williamson continues to deny that he was behind the leak after he was sacked by Theresa May over the breach, and claims he would be “absolutely exonerated” if there was a police investigation.

Parliament was due to discuss the issue on Thursday morning after Labour was granted an urgent question on Williamson’s sacking.

Dominic Grieve, the chair of the intelligence and security committee and the former attorney general, has joined opposition parties in claiming the breach amounted to a potentially criminal act.

Speaking to Sky News, Grieve said: “If people leak the content of such a meeting, even if it is just about a policy disagreement, not some specific secret item, it ruthlessly undermines the ability of the National Security Council to do its work. If you are going to leak material from a NSC meeting which includes classified material potentially you do break the law.”

He added: “In this country investigation of criminal offences is done independently by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. There is certainly an argument for it being referred to the police.

“Indeed, I got the impression Gavin Williamson wished it to be because he believes it will exonerate him.”

In her letter dismissing Williamson, May said a leak inquiry had found “compelling evidence” suggesting he was to blame.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said such evidence should be passed to the police. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “This is about the law applying equally and to everyone. We have had high-profile civil servants go to jail for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

“The logic of the prime minister’s letter is she says she has compelling evidence that suggests he has done the same. He is denying it and he has the right to clear his name – the way to do that is a criminal inquiry if confidential information has leaked.”

The former national security adviser, Lord Ricketts, said the director of public prosecutions should decide whether a criminal investigation should be launched.

Speaking to BBC Two’s Newsnight, he said: “On the face of it, this is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. All the ministers and officials around the table will have signed that. “So, it seems to me the police ought to be considering: is there a case to be considered there? “It would be for the director of public prosecutions to make the decisions, not ministers.”

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Jo Swinson, has written to the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, calling for a criminal investigation.

The letter states: “I am writing to ask you to open a criminal investigation to ascertain whether the actions of Mr Williamson constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.”

and in Addis Ababa es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino