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PM slams Imbert on Royal Navy claim
The Royal Navy will continue to provide a permanent presence in the Caribbean, according to assurances from the British, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday. Persad-Bissessar conveyed the assurance to the House of Representatives yesterday, after statements by PNM MP Colm Imbert in the House on Wednesday. Imbert had said he would not be surprised if the withdrawal of a UK navy vessel from the Caribbean had something to do with the Government’s scrapping of the offshore patrol vessel deal.
During yesterday’s House session, the Government sought to have Imbert referred to Parliament’s Privileges Committee for his remarks.
Persad-Bissessar led the charge, accusing Imbert of “mischief and attempting to mislead the nation in his zeal to acquire cheap political points. “It is extremely dangerous to leave these unsubstantiated innuendoes and allegations unanswered,” she said. “This irresponsible statement by the MP has the potential to cause severe damage to bilateral relations between T&T and the UK.” She said the Government contacted the “relevant authorities in the UK” after Imbert spoke. “I have since been advised by them that the MP’s statement or perception is totally incorrect and there was absolutely no link between the withdrawal of the Royal Navy frigate and the OPV contract,” the Prime Minister said.
“In fact, contrary to the irresponsible allegations and innuendoes by the MP, I’m advised the Royal Navy will continue to provide a permanent presence in the Caribbean and will be able to respond to the full range of foreseeable contingencies.” After the PM’s statement, Government MP Tim Gopeesingh called for Imbert to be referred to the Privileges Committee for “wilfully, deliberately misleading” the House with “false, irresponsible, mischievous” statements and innuendoes. Gopeesingh said Imbert knew or ought to have known the statement was inaccurate and had not apologised for the statement. Speaker Wade Mark said he would reserve ruling on the issue at a later stage, not necessarily yesterday. Persad-Bissessar said Imbert had provided no conclusive evidence for his remarks.
“I’m advised that the main threats to the security of the UK overseas territories are natural disasters, especially hurricanes, regional corruption and the effects of drugs and drug-related crimes, hence the need for the Royal Navy to have a presence in Caribbean waters,” she said. “I’m further advised that the Atlantic Patrol for 2011 will not include a Royal Navy destroyer for the hurricane season as before, but instead there will, in fact, be a Royal Navy team embarked on the remaining Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship. “This means the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will provide broadly comparable disaster relief capability to what it provided before.”
She said she was told that the decision to withdraw the UK frigate came as a result of a Strategic Defence and Security Review by the British Ministry of Defence which reduced its number of frigates from 23 to 19.
Persad-Bissessar said it was not only the Caribbean that had been affected. “The withdrawal was based on the challenging defence and financial background and nothing else, but by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship still being positioned in the Caribbean,” she said. “It demonstrates the commitment the UK Government has to the defence and security of Caribbean allies.”
She said the new capability meant that there would be one ship instead of two in the region. Persad-Bissessar also said that UK firm of BAE put in a tendering bid on the OPVs which was nearly $700 million more than the other two bidders. She called on Imbert to “explain how that happened, why that happened; instead of crying about cancellation. “Why was BAE’s tender bid, which was nearly more that $700 million more than the other bidders, why they were chosen given that scenario?” she asked.
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