It was the first big task for the new prime minister, Theresa May. Just five days after entering Downing Street in July last year, she rose to her feet in the House of Commons to propose a motion backing the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
“There is no greater responsibility as prime minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people,” she began. “That is why I have made it my first duty in this House to move today’s motion.
“For almost half a century, every hour of every day, our Royal Navy nuclear submarines have been patrolling the oceans, unseen and undetected, fully armed and fully ready — our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack.”
Implicit in the argument for renewal was the assumption that the Trident weapons system was reliable and, as a basic minimum, could hit its target.
May failed, however, to tell the House a crucial piece of information that had been known to Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for four weeks.
The Trident weapons system had been tested by a British submarine for the first time in four years. And it had malfunctioned.
When, at the end of the Trident debate, MPs voted overwhelmingly to spend £40bn on building a new generation of submarines, they were still unaware of this because the government had not come clean.
The test failure — which occurred at around the time of the Brexit referendum on June 23 — had sent shudders through Downing Street, according to a senior naval source who has spoken to The Sunday Times.
The crisis coincided with the political convulsions of the referendum result and David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister. Senior ministers and security officials decided to keep it to themselves. A news blackout was ordered.
“Ultimately, Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test,” said the source. “If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent. The upcoming Trident vote made it all the more sensitive.”
This weekend the government faces serious questions about the safety of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, its effectiveness and why crucial information was kept from the public and parliament ahead of the debate on Trident. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 22, a British government spokesperson said “The capability and effectiveness of the Trident missile, should we ever need to employ it, is unquestionable.
“In June, the Royal Navy conducted a routine unarmed Trident missile test launch from HMS Vengeance, as part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew.
“Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent.
“We do not provide further details on submarine operations for obvious national security reasons.”
This, as is nearly always the case with defense-related comments, does not address the question at hand and makes a general, unrelated point.
In this case, it claims that the submarine and her crew were “successfully tested and certified,” but does not even mention the Trident missile, whose failure is the subject of the report.)