Defence secretary Michael Fallon has been accused of “stonewalling” parliament after he refused to discuss details of an alleged failed Trident missile test.
The Sunday Times reported that a test of the missile by HMS Vengeance, which carries the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons, went wrong in June off the coast of the United States.
Speaking in the Commons today, Fallon insisted the submarine and its crew “were successfully tested” and that the “capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt”.
However as he was speaking, CNN published a story which reported a US defence official had confirmed the missile, which was not carrying a nuclear warhead, was “diverted into the ocean to self-destruct”.
The test conducted by HMS Vengeance occurred weeks before MPs approved the £40bn Trident renewal programme - but parliament was not informed.
Downing Street confirmed today that Theresa May knew of the test before she asked the Commons to vote. On Sunday, the prime minister had refused to answer four questions on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme about whether she was aware.
Fallon told MPs today the government did not want to reveal more information due to national security considerations. “There are very few things that we can not discuss openly in parliament, but the security of our nuclear deterrent is certainly one of them,” he said. “I don’t believe in greater transparency in this House when it comes to our nuclear deterrent.”
However the Ministry of Defence has publicised successful tests in the past. In 2013 the government announced the crew of HMS Vigilant had been awarded trophy for being “the Navy’s No.1 ballistic missile submarine – as proven by a successful test firing last autumn”.
Fallon also refused to tell MPs when specifically David Cameron - who was prime minister at the time- and May were told of the HMS Vengence test.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith told the Commons she did not want Fallon to reveal any “any sensitive or inappropriate details” but wanted “clarity and transparency” about the test.
“Why was this information deliberately kept from parliament and the British parliament?” she asked.
And Labour MP Kevin Brennan told Fallon: “Doesn’t the secretary of state’s characteristically ‘name, rank and serial number, don’t tell ‘em Pike’ approach to this make no sense at all.
“Our American counterparts in Congress will certainly be given full details of what happened around this test. And his stonewalling here does nothing to strengthen our security and everything to undermine the credibility of this House.”
Julian Lewis, the Conservative chairman of the Commons defence committee, said May was not at fault for MPs not being told and pinned the blame on any cover-up on Cameron.
“In fairness to the present prime minister one has to accept that she has been dealt a rotten hand because this matter, the decision to cover it up, if there was such a decision, as appears to be the case, was taken in the dying days of the Cameron administration when spin doctors were the rule in Number 10 Downing Street,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But a member of Cameron’s former Downing Street media team told The Huffington Post it was “entirely false to suggest David Cameron’s media team covered up or tried to cover up the Trident missile test”.
They added: “We are disappointed that Julian Lewis would make these claims with no evidence.”
It was also pointed out many of Cameron’s media team were not working in Downing Street at the time of the test as they were working on the EU referendum campaign.