THE former head of the Royal Navy has said it was ‘inconceivable’ the prime minister would not have known about an alleged failed Trident missile test.
Admiral Lord Alan West made the statement to a panel of MPs at a hastily-arranged meeting of the defence select committee.
It comes amid damning claims by MPs that Number 10 ‘covered up’ a botched test of an unarmed nuclear missile, ahead of a key Commons debate on renewing the £40bn Trident system.
The revelation has caused a political storm at the centre of Whitehall, with PM Theresa May and defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon under increasing pressure to reveal details of the alleged incident.
It has been reported that Mrs May knew the result of the test – but she has never confirmed this, and despite numerous questions from politicians and journalists, the pair have remained tight-lipped, refusing to confirm if a malfunction took place which caused the missile to veer off course during a test near Florida.
The controversy deepened yesterday amid reports from The Times that the US had asked former PM David Cameron to keep the details of the alleged failure a secret.
It’s a situation which Admiral Lord West branded a ‘mess’.
The Labour peer, who is a former First Sea Lord, said: ‘The deterrent is so important for our nation that I think any prime minister takes huge interest in it.
‘It’s the first thing that they have briefed to them when they take over.
‘So it has a focus for them, which is why I find it inconceivable that this test – which we only do once every four years – had happened, and something had gone even slightly wrong, that the prime minister wouldn’t have been told.’
The missile was allegedly fired from navy submarine HMS Vengeance in June, days before the Brexit vote.
Mrs May became PM after this. Five days later she led the debate over Trident’s renewal.
Downing Street, the PM and the defence secretary all cited ‘national security’ reasons for not giving any details about the launch. But Lord West told MPs it was ‘routine’ for the results of a missile test – along with videos of the firing – to be made public.
He said that since 2000 there had been five such tests and added he didn’t believe this ‘affected’ national security at all.
Speaking of Trident, he said: ‘I have no doubt whatsoever that the Trident system works superbly. It is the best of its type in the world. What this has done is thrown doubt on that and there was no need.’