Labour and the Scottish National Party are urging the government to give a full explanation to MPs on how a test firing of a Trident missile went wrong.
The unarmed missile reportedly veered off course a few weeks before MPs voted to renew the nuclear weapons system. The Ministry of Defence says submarine HMS Vengeance and its crew were “successfully tested”.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it was “extremely worrying” Parliament had not been told of June’s incident.
Nia Griffith, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, is calling for the prime minister to give “a full explanation” to MPs later. Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a long-standing opponent of Trident, whose submarines are based at Faslane, on the River Clyde, called the apparent misfire a “hugely serious issue”. The SNP leader tweeted: “There should be full disclosure of what happened, who knew what/when, and why the House of Commons wasn’t told.”
The Royal Navy has carried out half a dozen such tests since 2000 and in the past has publicised successful launches, but this time did not.
At the start of a critical political week, Theresa May finds herself under pressure for refusing to answer it. Did she, or did she not know that something had gone wrong with our nuclear weapons, when she asked MPs to vote to renew the costly Trident system?
HMS Vengeance, one of the UK’s four Vanguard-class submarines, returned to sea for trials in December 2015 after a £350m refit, which included the installation of new missile launch equipment and upgraded computer systems.
According to the Sunday Times, the unarmed Trident II D5 missile was intended to be fired 5,600 miles (9,012 km) from the coast of Florida to a sea target off the west coast of Africa – but veered towards the US.
In July, days after Theresa May had become prime minister following David Cameron’s resignation, MPs backed the £40bn renewal of Trident by 472 votes to 117. During the debate, Mrs May told MPs it would be “an act of gross irresponsibility” for the UK to abandon its nuclear weapons. But all 52 SNP MPs voted against it, as did 47 Labour MPs, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Questioned by Andrew Marr on Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May refused four times to say whether she had known about the test firing ahead of the vote. Mrs May said: “I have absolute faith in our Trident missiles. When I made that speech in the House of Commons, what we were talking about was whether or not we should renew our Trident.”
Bizarre & Stupid
Conservative MP Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said Mrs May had been “handed a no-win situation” by her predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose “spin doctors” had been responsible for a “cover-up”. He told Today that the government usually released film footage of the “99%” of missile tests deemed a success and that ministers could not “have it both ways” by not announcing when this had not been the case.
But a spokesman for Mr Cameron said: “It is entirely false to suggest that David Cameron’s media team covered up or suggested a cover-up for the Trident missile test. “We were disappointed Julian Lewis would make these claims without any evidence.”
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, called for “full disclosure”, adding: “A missile veering off course is deeply concerning. Imagine such a failure occurring in a ‘real-world’ situation – it could lead to the slaughter of millions of people in an ally’s country.”
Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “There’s absolutely no doubt that this would have impacted on the debate in Parliament.” But former nuclear submarine commander and Ulster Unionist Party assembly member, Steve Aiken, told Today that any fault “would have been sorted out”. “There is a convention that we don’t talk about the deterrent… because that is the nature of the deterrent – it is about the security of this nation and I would fully support the prime minister in avoiding those questions,” he said.
A statement issued by Downing Street and the MoD said the capability and effectiveness of Trident was “unquestionable”.