A Labour MP has accused Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon of refusing to answer questions about delays to the new super carrier for the Royal Navy, which will be based in Portsmouth.
Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said sea trials for the multibillion-pound HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier had been quietly pushed back from spring to summer.
At defence questions in the Commons, Sir Michael and defence minister Harriett Baldwin failed to provide reasons for the delay, only saying that HMS Queen Elizabeth should be ready by the end of the year.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Jones said: ‘Having publically stated that sea trials will begin this spring, the government need to explain why the first of the carriers is now to be delayed and ministers are now refusing to give a date when it will become operational.
‘Refusal to give answers is becoming habit forming for Michael Fallon. He needs to be clear whether it is technical reasons for the delay, or if it is another way for ministers to attempt to balance the defence budget.’
The 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the navy’s biggest and most powerful warship.
At defence questions, Mr Jones said: ‘In the 2015 SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review) and again in December of last year, in the first annual report of the SDSR, the government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin in spring of this year.
‘In response to a parliamentary question last week, she informed me that they would no longer take place, but would take place in summer of this year. What are the reasons for this, and what is going to be the operational service date for Queen Elizabeth?’
Ms Baldwin said: ‘I would just like to confirm to him that she will commence her sea trials this summer, and she will enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.’
Sir Michael said: ‘It has always been our intention that Queen Elizabeth should be accepted into the Royal Navy before the end of this year.
‘We are not giving specific dates as to when the sea trials are likely to commence. The Queen Elizabeth will set out on those sea trials when she is ready to do so.’