Secret nuclear sell-off storm

Aldermaston bomb factory is sold to American company in bid to boost Treasury coffers provoking fury as Parliament is bypassed

Britain no longer has any stake in the production of its nuclear warheads after the Government secretly sold off its shares in the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston.

Ministers agreed to sell the remaining one-third ownership to a Californian engineering company. The announcement, which means that Americans will now produce and maintain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, was slipped out on the eve of the parliamentary Christmas holiday. Officials refused to say how much the deal raised.

Opposition MPs last night expressed concern that the stake may have been sold off below market value to raise much-needed money for the Treasury. They accused the Government of trying to conceal the sale of the stake in AWE Management Limited by failing to make an announcement in Parliament.

There was also anger that Britain would no longer directly control the site where Britain's nuclear warheads are produced and maintained.

A terse one-paragraph statement posted on the website of the state-owned nuclear firm BNFL confirmed that its one-third stake in the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) had been sold to the California-based Jacobs Engineering Group, a global engineering firm which already carries out work for the nuclear weapons and research establishment in Berkshire.

Yesterday, the MoD insisted that it had retained a "special share" in the establishment which allows it to intervene in the site or sack the operators if necessary. A spokesman said the deal would protect the independence of the nuclear deterrent and ensure Britain's strategic interests were maintained.

The Ministry of Defence owns the site and equipment at the establishment, but contractors have carried out the work of the base since 1993.

The AWE, based at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, employs 4,500 people and more than 2,000 contractors. It designs, assembles, maintains and decommissions nuclear warheads, but the organisation is also a major centre for nuclear weapons research with expertise in advanced physics, materials science and super-computing.

The current contractors, a joint venture between BNFL, the business services group Serco and the American defence giant Lockheed Martin, were appointed in 2000 and will run the base until 2025.

The successful bidder, Jacobs, is an $11bn-a-year engineering concern with interests ranging from aerospace to the oil and gas industries. Last year, it lost out in bidding to operate 10 Magnox nuclear power stations in Britain.

MPs expressed anger that Parliament had not been informed of the sale of the AWE. The shadow Defence minister, Gerald Howarth, said: "The AWE is critical to Britain's nuclear deterrent capability and we find it astonishing that the decision regarding the increase in US involvement in the company was not announced to Parliament. It is now imperative that the Government spells out its understanding of the implications of this move for the United Kingdom and our nuclear deterrent."

Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the sale needed to be urgently scrutinised: "This is the type of thing we would raise with the National Audit Office. There are a number of economic questions, but there are national security questions."

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, added: "It is staggering that the Government could do something of such strategic importance without informing Parliament.

"The whole argument used for Britain having a separate weapons establishment is that this is required by the [nuclear] non-proliferation treaty, as technology-sharing is not allowed. We must therefore query the rationale of a US company having a majority shareholding in AWE ... There has always seemed to be a lot of cloak and dagger around Aldermaston, and now it appears the Government has concealed something of huge significance from Parliament. If the company has declared the deal is going ahead to the New York Stock Exchange, they must be fairly sure this is the case."

Anti-nuclear campaigners claimed the sale would compromise the independence of Britain's nuclear deterrent. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, called it "astonishing", adding: "It's almost unbelievable that something as serious as the development of nuclear weapons should be privatised to an American company." Kate Hudson, chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "It is outrageous that control of Britain's so-called 'independent' nuclear weapons is being handed over to American corporations."

But a spokesman for the MoD said: "The safe operation of AWE will remain unaffected by the sale. MoD worked closely with colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and BNFL, during the sale process to ensure British strategic interests were taken into account. UK sovereign interests remain protected at all times, as does the independence of the UK deterrent."

What's for sale next?

The Treasury is considering privatising other state assets in what critics have called a recession "fire sale". These include:

*Ordnance Survey

*The Met Office

*The Forestry Commission

*The Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster

*The Covent Garden Market Authority

*The Royal Mint

*The Tote

*Buildings owned by British Waterways

*British Nuclear Fuel's stake in uranium enrichment company Urenco

*The Oil & Pipeline Agency, which manages the UK's underground network of fuel distribution pipelines.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes