Ministers in a froth amid Huawei row

Huawei logo Image copyright AFP

Westminster is no more a happy place than it was before the Easter break.

No MPs seem to have come back from their constituencies with a new idea about how to untangle the Brexit mess.

More to the point, none of them seems to have come back having changed their mind.

One former minister joked grimly this afternoon, it's "like the cement has set harder", rather than distance bringing any fresh perspectives.

And if, as ministers are suggesting privately, the government brings back its Brexit legislation - the Withdrawal Bill - next week to try to show that something is actually happening, there is very little sign at this stage that it would end up with anything other than another defeat.

Those cross-party talks? Not much seems to be moving there either.

And, if you were looking forward to - or horrified by - the prospect of a Tory grassroots and backbench move against Theresa May, the 1922 Committee has concluded they won't change the rules to permit another formal attempt to oust the prime minister - at least not now.

For once, however, some ministers are in a froth tonight. Not about Brexit, but about another big strategic decision the government has to make, and make very soon.

There have been fears inside government about allowing the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei to get involved in the construction of the UK's 5G telecoms network for some time.

As my colleague Gordon Corera explains here, it's not straightforward.

Neither, it's understood, was the National Security Council's deliberation yesterday, with cabinet ministers arguing over the merits and risks of allowing Huawei to get involved.

Separately from the decision itself, which has not yet been finalised, there is real upset, however, today over the fact the conversations leaked.

The cabinet was memorably described as the "worst in British political history" for leaking by the man who, ironically, is meant to be in charge of discipline itself - the chief whip.

But for a leak to come from the security council is quite a different order.

As many as six ministers are therefore likely to write to Number 10 complaining and calling for a "full and proper" inquiry into who divulged the information.

One senior government minister described the National Security Council as the "holy of the holies".

Another expressed deep frustration at the breakdown of discipline on display: "Cabinet is quite bad enough, the council is quite something else."

A short break from the melee has certainly not restored this government's grip.

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