Theresa May is under growing pressure to find and sack the minister, aide or official responsible for a national security leak that revealed the government will allow the Chinese firm Huawei to supply equipment for 5G mobile phone networks.
Labour and Tory MPs called on the prime minister to order an official leak inquiry led by the cabinet secretary amid suspicions that a minister with leadership ambitions handed over the information to further their own career.
The information was briefed to the Daily Telegraph from Tuesday’s meeting of the national security council, which is top secret and classified.
It was reported that Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, Liam Fox, the trade secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, raised concerns about allowing a Chinese firm some “non-core” access to the 5G networks.
Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said critical issues of national security “should be handled with utmost care, not used as political ammunition in a Tory party civil war”.
“The government should launch a full investigation to get to the bottom of these leaks, otherwise it risks further extinguishing what little authority it has left,” he said.
It comes after many months of leaks from May’s cabinet meetings with discipline almost entirely broken down. However, MPs said the leak of a discussion on intelligence and national security was a different magnitude and seriousness.
Nicholas Soames, a Conservative MP, said the leak was so serious that a “criminal inquiry” was needed and called for whoever was responsible to be sacked.
He was backed up by Ben Bradshaw, a Labour former cabinet minister, who said it “demands a criminal inquiry, not just an internal leak inquiry … The Tory party civil war is now threatening our national security.”
Johnny Mercer, a Tory MP and former British Army officer, added: “The leak from the national security council is extraordinary. A new and grim low.”
Any cabinet minister found to have been responsible would be in breach of the ministerial code and could be sacked. The leaker could also have broken the Official Secrets Act, meaning there is a possibility of criminal charges.
Aside from concerns about the leak, Labour has been granted an urgent question to discuss the controversy over whether Huawei should be allowed involvement in the 5G network.
The US has in effect banned Huawei from its 5G infrastructure. Rob Joyce, a senior adviser at the US National Security Agency, said the British move could hand Beijing a “loaded gun”.
He told the Financial Times: “We have got to understand all the details of that and decide what that means. What we will be insistent on is UK decisions can’t put our information at risk but the good news is that the UK already understands that.”
In contrast, GCHQ has repeatedly said Huawei needs to be closely monitored but has not called for a ban. The director, Jeremy Fleming, said concerns about its country of origin were not necessarily the top priority when security was being considered.
“We are looking at the risks that arise from their security and engineering processes, as well as the way these technologies are deployed in our national telecom networks,” Fleming said in a rare speech on Wednesday morning. “The flag of origin of 5G equipment is important but it is a secondary factor.”
Huawei says it is independent of the Chinese government. It is owned by a trade union committee representing employees and has supplied equipment in the UK since the middle of the last decade.