25 November 2007: for immediate release
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament wholeheartedly welcomes the comments made today by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee . The Committee has strongly criticised the Government’s attempt to sneak out the announcement that the American-run base of RAF Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire is to form part of the US Missile Defence system.
The influential committee of MPs said that they “regret the manner and timing of the Government’s announcement…and the resulting lack of Parliamentary debate on the issue” referring to the release of the news as a written statement on the last day before Parliament broke for the summer.
In February then-Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised a full debate “when we have a proposition to put”. Just weeks before the announcement of the decision, a minister told the Commons “discussions are at an early stage and there are no formal proposals”. In apparent contradiction to these statements, the decision was announced in July. In response, the Committee “recommend that the Government inform us of the date on which it received the formal proposal from the US to include Menwith Hill in the BMD system”. They also call for a full Parliamentary debate on the proposals. [See note 3 for Parliamentary sources]
Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, has said the upgrade at Menwith Hill, a communications and spy base mostly staffed by US personnel, will be “ready for operation early in 2008”. But, indicating who is actually in control of the base, he has said “the operational date for the Space Based Infra Red System is a matter for the US.”
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “The Committee is completely right to object to this behaviour. Parliament and the public have been treated with total contempt by the Government. Making a major announcement in writing a day before Parliament’s 3-month break is a classic way ‘to bury bad news’. There has been outrage across the political spectrum about this with dozens of MPs signing a motion (EDM 65) calling for an urgent debate.”
“Today’s MoD response that the upgrade at Menwith Hill – a virtual US enclave in Yorkshire is “minor in nature” is patently false. It forms a vital link in a US satellite system intended to detect missiles. In doing so it puts us on the front line in future US wars. Anyone wishing to attack the US would want to destroy this system first, so in no way can a decision to base a part of it a few miles from a British town be ‘minor in nature’. Polls show that a majority of people think having these bases makes us less safe – the Government needs to catch-up with public opinion which already rejects being involved in every destabilising US military adventure.”
Previously Jon Trickett, MP for Hemsworth, near to the Missile Defence bases and Chair of the Compass Parliamentary Group, has said “In committing both Menwith Hill and Fylingdales to the Missile Defence programme, the US Government are using Britain as little more than a military outpost. By endorsing these decisions and bypassing our democratic process, our Government risk the safety and security of the British people and commit to a military system that will allow the US to launch attacks when and where they choose with the intention of making themselves invulnerable to reciprocal attack. Public opposition to the bases must be harnessed to force the Government into a debate on British engagement in this essentially aggressive military programme.”
Notes to Editors:
1. For further information and interviews please contact Ben Soffa, CND’s Press & Communications Officer, on 07968 420859
2. On the question of whether “the UK’s support and involvement in the US National Missile Defence programme, including the stationing of US radar and communications bases in Yorkshire should be decided by the UK Parliament” 68% agreed, with only 14% disagreeing. 18% did not know. 54% of the public agree (compared with 24% who disagree) that “the siting of US missiles and early warning bases in the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the US National Missile Defence programme, increases the security threat faced by the UK and Europe.” 22% did not know either way. Figures from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,049 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 30th July 2007.
3. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.