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London: A planned visit to the UK by the Australian Parliament's powerful intelligence and security committee has been abruptly cancelled amid a diplomatic row over Boris Johnson's controversial decision to allow Chinese telco Huawei into its 5G network.
The committee was supposed to travel to Britain in late March and spend the first week of April meeting the House of Commons intelligence committee, Britain's security agencies and other high-level national security figures, as part of the countries' mutual links and membership of the elite Five Eyes spying club.
But The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age can reveal the trip has been suddenly cancelled.
Liberal MP Andrew Hastie chairs the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
It comes after the ABC revealed that the UK High Commissioner Victoria Treadell, a civil servant, penned an angry letter to two of Australia's most prominent MPs working in the national security space, demanding an explanation over an explosive leak revealed last week by the Herald and The Age that embarrassed the British.
While the leak caused upset in London, the disagreement had largely died down until Thursday, a week after the exchange took place, when Ms Treadall sent a stern letter to Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and Liberal senator David Fawcett, who chairs the Foreign Affairs committee.
Two sources familiar with the contents of her letter said it was the equivalent of a "dressing down" and that it was unprecedented for a UK civil servant to berate elected MPs in this way, particularly given the two men have served in the military.
Mr Hastie was an officer in the elite SAS for five years and served on the frontline in Afghanistan, while Senator Fawcett was an experimental test pilot.
Last week the Herald and The Age revealed the committee's deputy chair and veteran Labor MP Anthony Byrne rebuked the UK's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during a face-to-meeting in Canberra. Mr Byrne told the British Secretary of State that letting China build Britain's critical national infrastructure was tantamount to allowing the Russians to construct it.
The confrontation underlined the deep tensions within the Five Eyes allies over Britain's green light for Huawei in defiance of Australia and the US' urgings to copy their bans on the Chinese vendor over fears of spying.
US President Donald Trump was reportedly "apoplectic" about Mr Johnson's decision on Huawei, while Mr Byrne's intervention was widely regarded as a reflection of Australia's position – something confirmed this week by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in Question Time, who endorsed and praised the Labor MP.
"I don't think there's much that the member for Holt would say that anybody could argue against when it comes to these matters," Mr Dutton said.
"You [Mr Hastie and Mr Byrne] should both be commended for the leadership you provide [of the security and intelligence committee]."
The dispute over Huawei has also caused a serious rift between Mr Johnson and Mr Trump, with British tabloid The Sun reporting Mr Johnson had postponed a planned trip to the US.
Australia first banned Huawei from supplying equipment to the nascent National Broadband Network in 2012 under Julia Gillard, and in 2018, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull banned the company from taking part in the 5G rollout, on security advice.
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