The United Kingdon government has been accused of a cover up after failing to disclose that an unarmed nuclear missile may have been mistakenly fired at the US mainland. The serious malfunction happened last June just ahead of a UK parliament vote on renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent, the Sunday Times has reported. The paper quoted an unnamed senior naval source as saying the missile may have veered off in the wrong direction towards the American mainland when it was fired off the coast of Florida from a nuclear Trident submarine.
It was the only test firing of a British nuclear missile in four years and came shortly before Theresa May became Prime Minister, the paper said.
It said Mrs May omitted any mention of the failed test when she persuaded parliament to spend 40 billion pounds ($53 billion) on new Trident submarines in her first major speech to parliament as prime minister last July. Asked four times during a BBC television interview on Sunday whether she knew about the misfire before she made that speech, Mrs May repeatedly declined to answer directly.
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“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, whether or not we should have Trident missiles,” she said. “There are tests that take place all the time, regularly for our nuclear deterrent.”
The Times said Trident missiles have been test-fired only five times by UK submarines this century because they each cost 17 million pounds. After more than five hours of debate, parliament last year voted to rubber stamp a 2007 decision to replace the deterrent system, approving the building of four submarines to ensure Britain can have nuclear weapons continuously on patrol at sea.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his finance spokesman John McDonnell, who both oppose Trident, on Sunday called for a discussion on the reported misfire. “People on both sides of the argument on Trident would have expected that to be reported to parliament and the fact that Theresa May didn’t is extremely worrying and I think questions have to be asked about that,” Mr McDonnell told the BBC.
In a joint statement, Mrs May’s office and Britain’s Ministry of Defence said the Royal Navy conducted a routine unarmed Trident missile test in June from HMS Vengeance, as part of an operation designed to certify the submarine and its crew. It did not confirm the failure.
“Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent,” the statement said. “We do not provide further details on submarine operations for obvious national security reasons.”