Prime Minister has 'absolute faith' in Trident nuclear missile system
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she has "absolute faith" in Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent, following reports a missile went off course in a test launch.
The reports have led to claims of a "cover-up", as MPs were not told about the June 2016 test when they voted on the £40 billion renewal of the Trident system the following month.
Mrs May confirmed she was informed about the test before addressing MPs ahead of the vote, which came just days after she entered office.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon was summoned to the Commons to update MPs on the incident, but repeatedly refused to discuss details of the launch.
He restated the Government's confidence in the "capability and effectiveness" of the Trident system and cautioned MPs against believing every element of the Sunday Times report. But as he was speaking, CNN reported an unnamed US defence official with direct knowledge of the incident had confirmed the unarmed Trident II D5 missile veered off course after being launched from a Royal Navy submarine off the coast of Florida.
The US official was reported to have said the altered trajectory was part of an automatic self-destruct sequence triggered when missile electronics detect an anomaly.
Mrs May said: "We don't comment on operational details for national security reasons."
She added: "The key issue about the debate we had in the House of Commons on the future of Trident, is whether we should renew Trident for the future.
"Should we continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent? I have absolute faith in our independent nuclear deterrent. I believe defending our country is absolutely crucial."
The Prime Minister has come under pressure to reveal further details of the test, after four times dodging the question of when she learnt about it during a TV interview on Sunday.
Her official spokeswoman confirmed yesterday morning that the PM had been informed when she came into office last July about the previous month's "demonstration and shakedown operation" involving the return to active service of HMS Vengeance following a refit.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, Julian Lewis, said Mrs May "should probably have spoken up" about any malfunction during last July's debate, but put the blame for any cover-up on her predecessor David Cameron and his team.
"This test went wrong in June when it was a question for David Cameron and his team at No 10. They evidently decided to cover this matter up," Dr Lewis told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Sir Michael Fallon repeatedly refused to discuss details of the launch, but cautioned MPs against believing every element of press reports. "The Government has absolute confidence in our deterrent and in the Royal Navy crews who protect us," he told MPs.