Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor / The Independent – 2007-08-06 00:09:31
LONDON (August 3, 2007) — Angry MPs challenged Gordon Brown to live up to his promise of more Parliamentary accountability by allowing a Commons vote over the use of the US listening post at Menwith Hill, in the Yorkshire Dales, as a base for the anti-nuclear weapon programme dubbed “Son of Star Wars”.
Their protests are reinforced by a YouGov poll today showing that 54 per cent of the public believe that stationing the US radar and communications stations, and possibly interceptor missiles, in this country increases the threat of attack on the UK.
The MPs, including former Labour cabinet minister, Clare Short, are furious that the decision to go ahead with the use of Menwith Hill was slipped out by the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, on the night before the Commons rose for the summer recess. It was buried with more than 30 other statements.
There are also fears among some locals that the town of Harrogate, which is near Menwith Hill, could become the focus for a second Greenham Common- style protest. That airfield was for years a site of protest against the presence of US Cruise missiles in the UK during the Cold War.
The deployment of interceptor missiles at forward bases in Poland and the Czech Republic has already increased tensions with Russia and led to threats by its President, Vladimir Putin, to site Russian weapons targeted at the West. Menwith Hill will be used for tracking incoming missiles and sending interceptor missiles to their target.
Mr Browne announced on 25 July that the upgraded early warning system at Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire moors would be become operational this month and “equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government” at Menwith Hill to allow the receipt of satellite warnings of potentially hostile missile launches. The information will be fed into the US ballistic missile defence system in their response to any missile attack on the US. Mr Browne said there were no plans for interceptor missiles to be based in the UK, but the situation would be kept under review.
In a joint cross-party letter to the Prime Minister, 22 MPs warned: “The UK’s continued and increasing involvement in US missile defence potentially puts the UK on the frontline in future wars.”
One of the leading signatories, Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said his constituents were alarmed that having the early warning system sited near them could also increase the threat of terrorist attacks in the area.
He said: “Locally, Harrogate has had a long and very happy relationship with the US people on the base. There is no animosity towards them but they feel this does make them more vulnerable.
“It stands to reason if you are going to have the threat of terrorist attacks or we are going to be on the front line in a major conflict, this has strategic importance. Slipping this out in a written statement is wholly unacceptable.”
A large majority of the public – 68 per cent – said a Commons vote should be allowed, in the online poll commissioned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The poll included responses from 2,049 adults between 26 July and 30 July. Kate Hudson, the CND chairwoman, accused the Prime Minister of “craven behaviour”.
The MPs warned that the decision suggested Mr Brown would be as subservient as Mr Blair to the US President, George Bush, in spite of Mr Brown’s impressive performance in Washington earlier this week.
Mr Willis said: “It does not augur well if this is part of the new relationship The least we deserve is a full debate and a vote on it.”
US in the UK
Fylingdales, N. Yorks – radar facilities used for early warning missile detection.
Menwith Hill, N.Yorks – US spy base that detects infrared radiation from enemy missiles.
Fairford, Glos – British airbase used by B-52 bombers.
Molesworth, Alconbury and Upwood, Cambs – Home to 423rd Air Base Group part of Joint Analysis Centre.
Barford St John, Oxon – Small US airbase with three runways.
Croughton, Oxon – Major communications station. Rumoured CIA use.
Feltwell, Norfolk – Housing estate for many personnel stationed nearby.
Mildenhall, Suffolk – Largest US airforce base in the UK, including refuelling, reconnaissance, special operations and intelligence units.
Lakenheath, Suffolk – Key US combat air units including F-15 fighter jets.