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UK Defence Secretary Fired After Leaking Info To Chinese Tech Giant Huawei

Britain's Defence Secretary was summarily fired on Wednesday after an investigation into leaks from a secret UK government meeting about Chinese telecoms firm Huawei.

Prime Minister Theresa May axed Gavin Williamson despite his "strenuous" denial that he was responsible for the unprecedented leak of information from the National Security Council.

There were calls from the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrats parties for a criminal investigation into whether Williamson had breached the Official Secrets Act but Downing Street made clear May now considers the matter "closed".

Williamson learnt his fate in a half-hour face-to-face meeting in May's House of Commons office, where she told him that a leak inquiry had found "compelling evidence" of his involvement.

In a letter to Williamson, May said she "can no longer have full confidence" in Williamson in the wake of the investigation, suggesting his "responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure" from the National Security Council.

"No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified," she said.

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson has been sacked by Theresa May. Image: Getty Images.

But Williamson hit back with his own letter to the PM in which he cast doubt on the investigation conducted by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.

"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," Williamson wrote.

Williamson revealed that he rejected an offer from May to resign rather than be sacked, saying that this would have sent a signal that he accepted that either he or his team was guilty.

He was immediately replaced in his role at the head of the Ministry of Defence by International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt. A Royal Navy reservist, she will be the UK's first female Defence Secretary.

Rory Stewart enters the Cabinet as new International Development Secretary.

An investigation was launched last week after newspapers reported that the security council, which meets in private, had agreed to let Huawei participate in some aspects of Britain's new 5G wireless communications network.

READ MORE: Is The Hooha Over Huawei Something To Worry About?

There have been questions about Huawei's reliability. Image: Getty Images.

The UK government insists no decision has been made about Huawei.

The United States has been lobbying allies to exclude Huawei from all 5G networks, noting that the Chinese government can force the company to give it backdoor access to data on its networks.

The security council includes senior ministers, who receive briefings from top military and intelligence officials, and its meetings are considered highly sensitive.

READ MORE: Tech Giant Huawei Punishes Employees For Sending Tweet On iPhone

London's Daily Telegraph said last week it had obtained details of security council meetings about Huawei. It said several ministers, including Williamson, had opposed letting Huawei work on Britain's 5G network.