The leak from the National Security Council that led to Gavin Williamson’s dramatic sacking did not amount to a criminal offence, a senior police officer has confirmed.
On Wednesday evening Theresa May took the extraordinary decision to fire Mr Williamson as defence secretary, blaming him for a leak from a meeting of the NSC regarding discussions over the Chinese tech company Huawei. The Daily Telegraph had reported that senior ministers at the meeting raised reservations about Mrs May’s imminent decision to allow Huawei some access to Britain’s new 5G system.
There have been calls from opposition parties for a police investigation into the leak, endorsed by Mr Williamson himself — who claimed this would exonerate him.
But on Saturday afternoon Neil Basu, head of the Metropolitan Police’s specialist operations, said he had told the Cabinet Office that the disclosure did not contain information that would breach the Official Secrets Act.
“I have considered all the information available to me and I have taken legal advice,” he said. “I am satisfied that the disclosure did not amount to a criminal offence either under the Official Secrets Act or Misconduct in a Public Office. No crime has been committed and this is not a matter for the police.”
Mr Basu said any organisation had the right to conduct an internal investigation into conduct in the workplace. But he said it was clear the leak did not cause damage to the public interest at a level that represented misconduct in public office.
“It is not a matter for the police unless a crime is alleged,” he said. “At no time have the police been provided with evidence by the Cabinet Office that a crime has been committed nor has it been suggested that a gateway process would be required to enable that determination to be made.”
David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, told the Commons this week that the relevant question was not whether Mr Williamson had breached the Official Secrets Act. “The key point here . . . is that the issue at stake here was less the substance of the material that was disclosed than the principle of a leak from the National Security Council itself.”
He told MPs that Mr Williamson did not need to have broken the law for his sacking to be justified: instead he was sacked because the prime minister had concluded that she no longer had confidence in him.
Mrs May, who is the first prime minister to sack a cabinet minister over allegations of leaking for a generation, has said she now considers the matter “closed”.
But Tom Watson, deputy Labour leader, had insisted that — if the former defence secretary had leaked from the NSC — he should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. Likewise Vince Cable, leader of the Lib Dems, said the story could not “begin and end with dismissal from office”.
Mr Williamson himself demanded a police investigation this week, insisting that he would be “absolutely exonerated” by the formal process. He claimed he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and a “kangaroo court” led by Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary.