Prime Minister David Cameron is today facing ridicule after claiming that North Korea had the capability of launching a nuclear attack against the UK.
The PM made the surprise comments on a visit to Scotland in order to promote the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Weapons system that is housed on the Clyde.
Claiming as "fact" that the North Koreans could hit the UK with nuclear weapons, the PM said: "North Korea does now have missile technology that is able to reach, as they put it, the whole of the United States and if they are able to reach the whole of the United States they can reach Europe too. They can reach us too, so that is a real concern."
However the Prime Minister’s claim has been ridiculed by weapons experts who say that the North Koreans possess no such capability.
Responding to the Conservative leader’s claims, the crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham, a former army officer, said: "There is no evidence at all to suggest the North Koreans possess a weapon which the Prime Minister suggested could pose a threat to Europe or indeed to us."
Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation and disarmament at the International Institute added: "North Korea does not have any missile capabilities that could hit Britain and it is difficult to envision circumstances when North Korea ever would want to attack the UK even if they could."
Another expert James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, said: "From what we know of its existing inventory, North Korea has short and medium range missiles that could complicate a situation on the Korean Peninsula (and perhaps reach Japan), but we have not seen any evidence that it has long-range missiles that could strike the continental US, Guam or Hawaii."
According to one expert writing in the Washington Times, the North Koreans missile capabilities rely more on boasts than actual tests.
There was further alarm when the PM insisted that the threat from the North Koreans was increasing. However last night Downing Street appeared to be trying to backtrack on Mr Cameron’s claim, saying the PM had merely been talking of the boasts from the North Korean leadership.
Mr Cameron’s remarks have sparked comparisons with Tony Blair’s infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction against the UK within 45 minutes. The claim underpinned Labour’s argument that the UK should take part in the invasion of Iraq.
Labour MP Paul Flynn called Mr Cameron’s claims: "wild, hysterical, desperate scaremongering" adding: "There’s about as much truth in this as Tony Blair’s 45 minute claim."
The claims by Mr Cameron came as he visited Scotland in an attempt at persuading Scots that the Trident nuclear system brought economic benefits to Scotland and acted as a deterrent against unstable regimes.
However there was further embarrassment for the Conservative leader when former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo cast doubt on the PM’s claim that the UK’s nuclear arsenal was relevant to the North Koreans.
Speaking to the Times newspaper, Mr Portillo said it was absurd to believe the UK would use its weapons against the North Koreans and that it was the USA’s nuclear arsenal that deterred Pyongyang. The former minister also argued that investing up to £30 billion to renew Trident would be pointless
He said: "If anybody is going to use its nuclear weapons, and provide the deterrent, it is the United States. South Korea and Japan are operating under the assumption that they are beneath the American nuclear umbrella and so do the United States’ other allies.
"To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case. They too believe the United States provides a deterrent to a rogue state."
Mr Portillo added: “I am not opposed to nuclear deterrents. I believe in them. But I don’t believe in the modern world it is necessary for Britain to have one."
Mr Cameron’s trip to Scotland brought criticism from the SNP which has pledged to remove WMDs from Scotland should Scots vote Yes in the 2014 referendum.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s visit, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it underlined how out of touch the UK Government is with the priorities of people across Scotland. She also said that all of the available evidence points to Scotland being opposed to Trident.
Ms Sturgeon said:
"Trident isn't the answer to the threats we face as a country. It diverts resources from conventional defence - which in Scotland has faced disproportionate cuts by successive UK governments - and the vast amounts of money spent on Trident and its replacement would be far better spent on other priorities. Furthermore, all of the available evidence - including votes in our own Parliament - point to the people of Scotland being utterly opposed to nuclear weapons being based here."
The Deputy First Mnister said that independence would remove Trident from Scotland but confirmed that the Faslane base would remain as a conventional naval base and joint forces HQ.
Responding to claims by Mr Cameron that Scotland currently benefited from defence spend, Ms Sturgeon added:
"The reality is that we contribute far more than is actually spent on defence in Scotland, as the official figures show. The real damage to the defence footprint in Scotland is being inflicted by the UK Government.
"The cuts in Scotland have been disproportionate – with the loss of 8,800 military and civilian MOD posts between 2000 and 2012 – a decrease of over one-third in Scotland, compared to just one-fifth across the UK. The UK Government then went back on its promise to right that wrong and redress the balance.
"The Prime Minister visit also comes in the same week that his government has introduced the Bedroom Tax - a deeply unfair policy that will adversely affect thousands of families across Scotland.
"That is the kind of issue that is concerning people the length and breadth of this country – and for the Prime Minister to focus his visit on the case for nuclear weapons shows that his priorities are wrong and that he is out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary families in Scotland.
"The case for independence is simple and it is powerful. Decisions about the future of Scotland are best taken by the people who live and work in Scotland. Independence will allow us to take decisions appropriate to our needs – whether about defence, the economy or welfare.
"The referendum next year will give the Scottish people the right to take decisions in all of these important matters into our own hands."