Cabinet strife (3)

After seeing intelligence from GCHQ, UK Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed her Defence Secretary as the source of the leak. Williamson has admitted talking to a Telegraph journalist, but denies that he was the source of the leak.

The dismissal is causing complications. Technically, Williamson is in breach of the UK’s Official Secrets Act and should be prosecuted. This is what the UK government has done with civil servants who have breached the OSA – even when they have acted in matters of conscience. Classic examples are Clive Ponting who revealed information about the sinking of the Argentine warship the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict and Sarah Tisdall who revealed secret plans to site US nuclear cruise missiles in the UK towards the end of the Cold War.

However, the UK government does not want to reveal how they pinpointed the leak and they do not want to wash their dirty linen in public for any longer than they have to. The fact that a UK Defence Secretary broke the very rules of secrecy that he is supposed to uphold is a source of considerable embarrassment. Williamson’s supporters, May’s enemies and opposition politicians do not want the Prime Minister to escape so easily.

Meanwhile the United States continues to ramp up the pressure on the UK to fall into line with US policy towards China. On 3 May, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper which is close both to the US and to Williamson carried a story on its front page that US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is travelling to the UK to warn the Prime Minister about the consequences of allowing Huawei to access the 5G network (as if that wasn’t already clear enough). The Telegraph announces that he will do this as May’s “leak scandal turns to farce”.

Prime Minister May will be disappointed in two respects: first, in using secret intelligence to expose the leaker, she really hoped to trap a “big fish” amongst her opponents and to strengthen her position. Williamson hardly fits that bill. He was viewed by many in the Parliamentary Conservative Party as over promoted and somewhat of a loose cannon following several dubious announcements during his term in office. If the police now become involved in an OSA investigation, she may find that she has caused herself a great many problems in return for a very small victory. Now she is frantically trying to shut down the enquiry and has declared the matter closed – but she may not get away so easily. Her enemies are calling for the investigation to be re-opened and Williamson has declared that he is innocent and must be given a chance to prove it.

The second disappointment is the arrival of former CIA chief, Pompeo. Prime Minister May has been trying to find a way between keeping some Chinese goodwill in order to get a shot at future trade deals and meeting the most serious of America’s security concerns. Of the “Five Eyes” intelligence partners, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have already had to fall into line and only the UK had sufficient heft to try and follow its own path. Part of this strategy was to salve Donald Trump’s ego by awarding his State visit to the UK in June. This is a massively unpopular move in the UK, but May calculated that the humiliation of the visit was worth the prize of an independent UK security policy. With the arrival of Pompeo it looks as if she has lost that battle. The United States will settle for nothing less than complete co-operation in intelligence matters.

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