Unusually for the Conservatives they’ve become engulfed in a row over Trident. The Sunday Times reported that a dummy Trident missile had misfired in a test in June and veered towards the US, rather than Africa.
After Theresa May refused to say four times on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning whether she had known of the reported malfunction when she told MPs the nuclear deterrent should be renewed, the row rumbled on today. No.10 announced that the Prime Minister had been aware of the Trident missile test that reportedly misfired, but left it to Michael Fallon to attempt to hose down the mess this afternoon as he faced MPs in the Commons.
Answering an urgent question from Kevan Jones, the Defence Secretary struck an unapologetic tone — describing the ‘demonstration and shake down’ test in question as a ‘success’. While the shadow defence secretary complained of a ‘worrying lack of transparency’ and the SNP described the cover-up as an ‘insult to our intelligence’, Fallon remained tight-lipped — refusing to divulge ‘operational details’ of what happened during the test. He ignored Julian Lewis’s invitation to give evidence before the defence select committee — prompting the Speaker to observe (thinking he was off mic) that ‘picking a fight with the chair of the select committee is a rather stupid thing to do’. Fallon’s steely resolve was undermined further by a CNN report (published while he spoke in the chamber) that claimed the Trident test did go wrong off the coast of Florida, where the missile self-destructed.
The question of whether Trident should be renewed or not is a separate question to whether it works. Had the government put out the facts of the matter of their own accord, they could have set the narrative. Instead, the government have given anti-Trident advocates easy ammunition. While the initial cover-up occurred under David Cameron, it was May’s decision to make the vote on Trident renewal her first big speech in the Commons. The Prime Minister had hoped to give her party a post-referendum unifying boost — on an issue the opposition are divided on. Today’s events, however, highlight the risks that come with politicising such issues.