There’s been an eerie peace around Parliament in the couple of weeks since Easter. The media tented camp across the road has been cleared away and the grass re-seeded; there have been precious few votes; and despite rumours that the talks with Labour are continuing (and possibly nearing a conclusion which is likely to be deeply unpopular with both Labour and Conservatives), there has been really no talk of Brexit at all. It has truly felt like the calm in the eye of the storm.
Yet into that spooky peace comes Huawei. Whoever it was who leaked the conversation from the National Security Council to the newspapers is a disgrace. I serve on the joint Lords and Commons Committee scrutinising the work of the National Security Council, and we are clear that if it is to have any purpose at all, then it must be secret. You cannot have the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the PM, the Chief of the Armed Services discussing crucial and top-secret security matters if they believe there is a chance that their views or conclusions may appear in the next day’s newspapers.
In an unprecedented exchange of sacking letters, Gavin Williamson strenuously denies that it was he. We shall see. This one will run and run. I am sorry to see Gavin go, not least because he has had significant success in arguing with the Treasury for more funds for Defence. I welcome Penny Mordaunt, who was a first-class Minister for the Armed Forces, and very much has Defence as a whole close to her heart. But did we really need all of this on the eve of the local government elections, which were looking pretty bad for the Tories even before it? Last night’s losses of Council seats is very bad, but will only be eclipsed by the catastrophe of a Euro Election on 23 May.
Yet while condemning the leak from the NSC, I do have a good deal of sympathy for the concerns which occasioned it. It appears that - alone amongst the ‘Five Eyes’ of security and intelligence partners - we are contemplating giving a Chinese monolith with close links to the Communist Party and Government, Huawei, a role in building our 5G capability. This is the telecommunications system which will run our Critical National infrastructure - electricity, water, gas; it will facilitate our military and intelligence activities; it will run such things as driverless cars. There is virtually no aspect of our everyday lives over the decades to come which will not be facilitated, or managed by 5G. Should we really be allowing a Chinese Communist company direct access to all of that? I have very serious doubts about it, to say the least.
So, although I have no sympathy for the leaker, whether it was Williamson or anyone else, I do entirely sympathise with their motivation - to prevent what could become one of the worst security decisions ever taken. Allowing Huawei access to 5G would be like giving Soviet Russia a road map to our allied nuclear bunkers and the security codes and passwords to get into them. That is not something we should contemplate.