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Royal Navy reservist Mordaunt named UK defense secretary after Williamson ousted over Huawei leaks

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May named Penny Mordaunt as the new defense secretary shortly after asking Gavin Williamson to step down over the fallout of a national security council leak investigation.

Mordaunt, a member of Parliament for Portsmouth North, was formerly the Secretary of State for International Development, a role that will be filled by Rory Stewart. She is a Royal Navy Reservist and was armed forces minister from May 2015 to July 2016.

May sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday, May 1 following a probe into the leak of news that the United Kingdom had conditionally allowed China’s Huawei to develop the country’s 5G network.

“The Prime Minister has this evening asked Gavin Williamson to leave the government, having lost confidence in his ability to serve in the role of Defence Secretary and as a member of her Cabinet,” said a spokesperson from her Downing Street office.

May said in a letter to Williamson that the investigation “provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure” from the April 23 meeting of the National Security Council.

“No other credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified,” she added.

Williamson has denied being “in any way involved in” the leak.

May’s already splintered government was rocked by the scandal over who leaked news that the prime minister was to let Huawei develop the U.K.’s 5G network.

The bitterly disputed decision was reportedly made at the April 23 meeting.

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.

But The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported 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 gather intelligence or provide other security services when required.

British media reported that Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, the country’s most senior civil servant, gave those present an ultimatum to deny responsibility for the leak.

Williamson was one of the first to do so, calling it “completely unacceptable”.


With reporting from AFP

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