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Labour demands answers into Trident nuclear test ‘misfire’

Trident II missile (US Defense Dept)Labour are demanding a “full explanation” of why Theresa May four times dodged the question of whether or not she knew about a calamitous failure on a Trident missile test last summer, just months before the House of Commons met to debate the controversial programme’s renewal. Andrew Marr asked Theresa May, “did you know the misfire of the missile had occurred when you made your first speech about Trident to Parliament in July 2016?”

HMS Vengeance, one of the UK’s four Trident submarines, which each carry up to forty-eight nuclear warheads, was running a test off the coast of Florida in December 2015 when it fired an unarmed missile at a sea target off the coast of West Africa, some 9,000km away. Instead of flying towards its intended target, the missile flew towards the US coast, the BBC reports. 

Jeremy Corbyn said that, “It’s a pretty catastrophic error when a missile goes in the wrong direction.” He has called for Theresa May to give a full explanation to MPs. It is expected that either her or Sir Michael Fallon MP, the Defence Secretary, will be made to do so by the House in the coming days.

Aside from the worry of an unarmed nuclear missile potentially firing in the wrong direction, what elevates this matter is the fact Theresa May could have known about this and chosen to bury the report from MPs ahead of the vote last summer on Trident renewal, which the government won by 472 votes to 117.

CND’s Kate Hudson has said:

This is a very serious failure of the Trident system and there’s absolutely no doubt this would have impacted on the debate in Parliament on Trident replacement. The government’s motivation for holding back this vital information is therefore clear.

Instead of crucial information being given by the government at the appropriate time to inform the MP’s debate, it’s been revealed by a senior naval figure months after it took place.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are calling for a public inquiry, and are asking supporters to write to their MPs to support this demand.


  1. David Pavett says:

    Kate Hudson’s claim that the test failure would have “impacted in the debate in parliament” is a safe one in that the minority of MPs opposed to Trident would have made much of it. The more significant issue us whether it would have made any difference to the majority of MPs who support Trident. Given that support for Trident among both Labour and Tory MPs is all about political posturing and (in Labour’s case) internal party manoeuvring, and not about the military value of the system, it seems doubtful that it would have had any effect.

    One could also ask would it have made any difference to Labour’s decision to dump its own defence review and to confirm its support fot Trident without consulting its members (which would very likely have produced a different result). That also seems highly unlikely.

    If that is right then what political value should we attribute to Labour’s protests about the test failure cover up? There is no suggestion that the Labour leadership wants to change its pro-Trident policy and no indication that this is an issue it wants to put before party members. Is this a case of wanting to make a noise about Trident without intending to change anything?

    1. Tony says:

      We should support their demands for an inquiry.
      But at the same time we should demand that Labour’s review of Trident is put back on.

      1. David Pavett says:

        @Tony, I agree.

    2. James Martin says:

      Spot on David, it seems to far to many Labour MP’s that WMD’s are absolutely fine so long as they are ‘British’ (academic when it needs to the yanks to be able to actually use them) and cost obscene amounts of money at a time when our NHS is crumbling.

  2. John Penney says:

    “Is this a case of wanting to make a noise about Trident without intending to change anything?”

    Yes indeed.

    The tragedy is that at every level and across every one of our Army, Navy and Airforce services , the extraordinary institutional “revolving door” corruption behind the UK’s catastrophically incompetent defence hardware procurement of the last 30 years or so, has actually left the UK seriously vulnerable to very real potential military threats, rather than the nonsensical doomsday “independent UK nuclear deterrent” posturing behind Trident .

    I’ve mentioned this before, but this procurement disaster includes:

    Two white elephant mega sized (mega vulnerable to surface skimming missiles) ) aircraft carriers, which will never be able to operate outside a US supplied screening fleet , and will have no aircraft for a long , long time. And when they do, not having steam catapults, they are entirely tied to the utterly crap VSTOL F25 turkey of a fighter/bomber.

    The pretty much inoperable new 6 ship Frigate fleet, whose crap power systems need total replacement !

    The utter lack of small naval support vesels to do basic naval defence work.

    The failure to secure replacement Ship-to-Ship medium range missile systems for the Navy, to replace currently obsolete ones. The obsolete missiles are being scrapped – so today most of the UK navy is reduced to defence (or offence) by one small naval cannon on their foredeck ! (this is true).

    The disaster of scrapping the early warning /reconnaissance Nimrod fleet – awaiting mega overpriced US supplied replacements.

    The utterly crap F35 fighter bombers the airforce will be buying.

    The scandal of the PFI /private supply air refueling fleet, which can’t even refuel much of the aircraft the RAF uses.

    The privatised out army and navy recruitment service – resulting in disastrous personnel shortages across the services.

    The long, long, decades of disastrous procurement of armoured vehicles of all types. leaving UK troops to take huge casualties from landmines in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest farce being the consequences of the run down in the UK armoured vehicle development capabilities, so the replacement for the British Challenger Main Battle Tank will eventually have to be American , OR, the better vehicle , a German Leopard ! (the “upgrade of the Challenger is actually being done by German firms , fitting the Leopard’s cannon )!.

    The serious shortage of UK infantry to meet any likely future defence requirement, even to assist UN peacekeeping on any scale. The over-use , to exhaustion” of the limited UK “Special forces” like SAS, being used to “project UK influence on the cheap).

    The list is actually endless. Yet, because Labour’s past Defence ministers have been just as embroiled in the “revolving door” payback system as the Tories, all Labour can do is posture on the utter useless shibboleth of “Trident”. The sole “Target” of this circa £100 BN “Defence System” being Jeremy Corbyn, and the Labour Left !

    1. Bazza says:

      Good points John, and just imagine this (although the missile was unarmed) it could even have hit Trump and given him a serious Billy Two Rivers haircut!
      But seriously I think it’s time the Left started thinking as independent critical thinkers (Rosa Luxemburg) and ditch ‘Left Group Think’ as Orwell said (in my view its greatest weakness apart too from being too certain) on issues including Trident.
      I am a left wing democratic socialist and support JC and in my heart could live with scrapping trident.
      But my brain recognises that whilst multilateralism has offered little movement I have a suggestion that could offer a way forward and one which may be simply just better politics.
      A significant number of people are frightened and it may be politically worth it wasting £10b a year to address this.
      So there could be one of five options:
      (a) We could either scrap trident (100%).
      (b) Scrap 95% of ours as an example for the other 9 countries to follow (95%).
      (c) Scrap 75% (75%).
      (d) Scrap 50% of ours (50%).
      (e) Scrap 25% of ours (25%).
      And spend the savings on the NHS, adult social care, education, public investment, addressing poverty etc.
      I would abstain on (a) vote for (b) my preferred option, vote for (c) second choice, and vote against (d) and (e) they do not go far enough.
      We could have a card ballot on each option at Conference and the one that gets the biggest majority is our policy.
      My heart is with scrapping Trident but my political head is with giving a massive momentum to boost multilateralism (to try to get rid of 95% of the World’s nuclear weapons) before one last push for the last 5% but with as a Brazilian ex-UN Chief recently said in the Observer with now possibly 5 Caesars in the World -the final push may be tough.
      Still one small step for humans, then one giant leap for humankind.
      Just food for thought.

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      A hell of a lot of detail there JohnP. I’ve personally got no idea at all about any of those issues. How do you know all this?

      Assuming your points are accurate, the question for us is, how do we switch the framing of the debate away from the current context?

      1. John Penney says:

        I’m a regular reader of Private Eye. That esteemed organ has covered this stuff for years ! So its not that I wade through endless issues of Jane’s weapons systems review for the facts.

        Also the mainstream press is now starting to cover the current total disfunctional state of the Royal Navy quite regularly.

        In my view its a collossal scandal of national importance, but a pacifistic Left isn’t interested, and the Labour Right are deeply implicated.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          That’s what I mean about the need to change the framing of the debate JohnP.

          When the left argue against Trident, or nuclear weapons in general, the response is always along the lines of: ‘Well, the left is pacifist and they don’t believe in defence anyway.’

          But yours are the kind of arguments that can show the left is serious about military defence.

          It’s a shame Clive Lewis was moved out of the defence portfolio as I felt he was a good person to articulate that position and win Labour some real credibility on this issue.

          1. John Penney says:

            I agree, Karl.

            There is a wide open goal for a Left not bogged down in pacifist posturing on this issue. This issue is one that actually exposes the “patriotic ” posturing of both the Tories and the Labour Right. Their incompetence and profound corruption, and craven subservience to the arms industry, especially the US arms industry has actually left the UK as a state seriously exposed militarily.

    3. Rob Green says:

      I too am intensely concerned about British imperialism’s lack of aggressive war-making capacity so sadly diminished by this obsession with Trident.

  3. Tony says:

    The missile reportedly headed towards the United States and had to be aborted (a launch of an armed missile cannot be aborted).

    It is interesting that May refused four times to answer the question from Marr.

    By contrast, she eagerly answered this question.

    “Is she personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that can kill a hundred thousand innocent men, women and children?”


    At the time, 18 July 2016, none of us knew that
    this could be 100,000 Americans!

  4. C MacMackin says:

    While David Pavett’s response to this piece is rather cynical, unfortunately I think it is also absolutely correct.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I am sorry if you found my response cynical. I dislike cynicism and try to base any criticisms I have on reliable evidence and not on negative assumptions. I say what I say in the hope that pressure will grow on the leadership to practice the open and honest politics it promised. I still have that hope but my estimation of the liklihood of it being realised has been reduced by the handling of Trident (to speak only of that).

      1. C MacMackin says:

        No need to apologise. Sometimes cynicism and pessimism are the only reasonable responses, especially when pointing out the cynical behaviour of others (i.e. the Labour leadership). I do understand why you say what you say and fully agree on the need to say it.

        1. David Pavett says:

          My dictionary has three meanings for cynic: (1) a follower an ancient Greek school of philosophy; (2) one who is habitually pessimistic; (3) one who doubts the existence of human sincerity or any motive other than self-interest. (1) is not applicable in this context and neither (2) or (3) apply to anything I have said. I hope you meant “sceptical”.

          I maybe sceptical, in fact I am definitely of a sceptical disposition but cynical? I believe not.

          My explanation for why the leadership has been so willing to abandon former commitments is not based on assuming that self-interest dominates. There are too many drawbacks to the job for that to be the case. Rather it is that the leaders lack the political and organisational understanding required to do the job properly and are not open to the available help that could make up for that deficiency with a more collective style of work. That has to change if the opportunity for a real turn to the left is not to end in tears. Will it change? I don’t know. In the meantime I, along with others, will try to support the leaders while criticising when I believe that they are seriously at fault.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            Okay, perhaps cynicism is not the correct word. Some of my misinterpretation may have been down to text-based communication lacking tone and facial expression to judge by. Arguably, questioning if “this [is] a case of wanting to make a noise about Trident without intending to change anything” is to question the sincerity of the leadership. I’m happy to accept that was not your intention, however. In terms of our stances on offering constructive criticism of the leadership, I think there is little practical difference except perhaps greater pessimism on my part.

  5. Rob Green says:

    That would be some friendly fire wouldn’t it?

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    David Pavett’s comments are quite right, although I am still surprised at how a Corbyn supporting, and therefore Trident opposing, membership has been prepared to accept a summary diktat on this matter with little protest.
    There is much black humour in the issue, which reminds me of ‘Dr. Strangelove’.
    John Penney is obviously very well informed on mil;itary matters and an elaboration of his comments in the form of an article would be welcome.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      He is indeed. And I completely agree that this would make for a very interesting and informative article.

      (Maybe a future Defence Secretary…)

      1. John Penney says:

        Article duly written and sent off. A bit long though.

        1. Rob Green says:

          Brilliant. Can’t way to see how you propose to rebuild British imperialism’s war-making capacity and replace patriotic posturing with real patriotism.

          1. John Penney says:

            There is of course a solid case within your post , David. My arguments about the current dysfunctionality of UK Defence strategy and equipment can only be of interest to the Left:

            a. politically, to expose the bogus “patriotism” and “competence” postures of the Labour Right and Tories , to our potential voting supporters (who do reasonably expect the state in which they live to have a defence capability).


            b. In relation to a holistic radical Left government Programme, embracing Defence , Economic Development, Education, Welfare, etc – alongside a new, defence strategy , not “joined at the hip” with US Imperialism

            It’s quite true that as currently configured the Royal Navy will ,fortuitously, find it vey hard to get seriously involved in, for instance , a military confrontation in the flashpoint area of the South China Sea. So there is an upside to the UK’s current military shortcomings .

          2. Bazza says:

            The US, UK et al went straight into Iraq because of oil.
            It took a long, long time to send peacekeepers to Bosnia (no financial interests).
            We shouldn’t have done the first (and Afghanistan & Libya & Syria) but should have done the second and if your going to do the second, the forces need good equipment.

    2. James Martin says:

      It is odd that so many go along with the nonsense of the arguments around Trident and the ‘deterrent’ as a whole, particularly when the become MP’s and despite in some cases previously being paid up members of the anti-nuclear sanity branch of humanity. But while I tend to John Prescott’s position that Trident should be binned off and all the money go to the NHS, sometimes I do think it better to play the ‘defence’ lobby at their own game and point out that rather than this bunch of very expensive useless white elephants the UK could instead begin to re-equip the armed forces, and navy in particular, with things that are actually more useful (and that could even be built at Barrow with no loss of jobs) as right now the UK government couldn’t even throw a 5 mile exclusion zone around the Isle of Man.

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    Anyone else find it really strange that nothing was asked about this during this week’s PMQs?

    The Prime Minister was able to talk, instead, about her Brexit plans without being put under any pressure at all over the Trident misfire.

    I recall how, during the Trident debate last July, Labour’s Blairite MPs were lining up, one after another, to grovel to Mrs May and stick the knife into Corbyn – one Labour MP actually said, when Corbyn rose to speak, that he was a ‘disgrace’.

    Why on earth didn’t Corbyn take the opportunity to hit back over the issue. To really put both the Prime Minister and his own Blairite critics, on the back foot?

    Really, really odd in my opinion. Of course the Brexit issue is extremely important, but surely a Trident missile malfunction is way, way more serious.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    I would have liked to have known if, when Mrs May answered unequivocally “Yes” during the Commons debate, in response to East Lothian MP George Kerevan, that she would be prepared to fire Trident and potentially kill 100,000 people, was she aware then that Trident had malfunctioned?

    If so, then her answer appears highly reckless in retrospect.

  9. John Penney says:

    All being well my ,quite long, new article on Defence Policy should be published on Left Futures early next week.

    Many thanks to David Pavett for his , not inconsiderable, editing role, in advance.

  10. Bazza says:

    Look forward to reading this and perhaps you are helping re the Left’s Achilles Heel.
    The political imbecile Fukuyama in his ‘End of History’ proclaimed the victory of advanced capitalist liberal democracy over ‘Communism’ but it was really a victory for bourgeois democracy (they really rule for big business and pretend they are for the common working man (Trump) or working people (May) just to try to con the masses out there) over bourgeois socialism (top down, elite leaders, taking the power for themselves).
    Perhaps the real hope is grassroots, bottom up, left wing, participatory, democratic socialism – a socialism WITH – perhaps what socialism was always meant to be.
    As I said re Iraq the powerful in the West were straight in because of oil but concerning Bosnia there were no “spoils of war” but eventually they had to pretend they cared about people and had to do something.
    We just need capable defence to try do good and save lives in horrible circumstances – and not be driven by pursuing the capitalist spoils of war.

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