Michael Fallon questioned over Trident misfire in Commons

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has restated the Government's confidence in the 'capability and effectiveness' of the Trident nuclear deterrent following reports a missile went off course in a test launch.

Fallon said the Trident missile system was successfully tested. Picture: PA
Fallon said the Trident missile system was successfully tested. Picture: PA

The reports have led to claims of a “cover-up”, as MPs were not informed about the June 2016 test when they voted on the £40 billion renewal of the Trident system the following month.

Downing Street confirmed Prime Minister Theresa May was informed about the test before she addressed MPs during the renewal debate in the House of Commons.

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During a TV interview this weekend, Mrs May four times ducked questions about Sunday Times reports that an unarmed Trident II D5 missile veered off course after being launched from a Royal Navy submarine off the coast of Florida.

But her official spokeswoman told reporters the PM was briefed on the “demonstration and shakedown” operation undertaken by HMS Vengeance.

“The Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister are routinely informed when one of these specific ‘demonstration and shakedown’ operations are planned and on the outcome of them,” said the spokeswoman.

“In this instance, that was in June so it was under the then prime minister (David Cameron). On taking office, the current Prime Minister was briefed on a range of nuclear issues, including this.”

The spokeswoman declined to say whether Mrs May was informed of a malfunction in the missile system, stating it was not Government policy to discuss operational details of tests in public, and telling reporters she did not anyway “accept the premise of the question”.

“We have been clear that the submarine and the crew were successfully tested and certified,” said the spokeswoman.

“That was the purpose of the operation.”

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Sir Michael repeatedly refused to discuss details of the launch, but cautioned MPs against believing every element of press reports.

He told MPs: “Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle.

“We do not comment of the detail of submarine operations.”

He added: “The capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt.

“The Government has absolute confidence in our deterrent and in the Royal Navy crews who protect us.”

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 Mr Cameron’s 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.