MPs demand French answers over Exocet missiles used by Argentina in Falklands

4 May 2022, 10:35 | Updated: 4 May 2022, 11:43

HMS Sheffield sank 40 years ago today. Inset: An Exocet missile
HMS Sheffield sank 40 years ago today. Inset: An Exocet missile. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Senior MPs are calling for an inquiry into whether France lied about whether missiles that killed British sailors in the Falklands War contained a "kill switch".

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The French-made Exocet guided missiles killed 46 British sailors in the 1982 war.

It is believed the switch could have remotely disarmed them but France denied such a feature existed.

Three Royal Navy ships were hit by Exocets launched by Argentinian troops during the conflict. Two, HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor, sank.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Sheffield.

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During the war, Britain appealed to France for information about how the missiles worked and whether they could be disabled.

MPs are now urging the country to disclose what it shared or did not share with Margaret Thatcher's government about the missiles.

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of Parliament's defence select committee, told The Telegraph the matter "warrants further investigation".

He said: "As we look to future battles we must learn from past events, and that includes how we work with allies and how we share critical intelligence.

“It certainly would have been game-changing had France chosen to share this characteristic of the Exocet."

HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet guided missile
HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet guided missile. Picture: Alamy

Liam Fox, a former defence secretary, said France should be "open and honest" about what happened and “set the historical record straight".

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and former Army captain who sits on the foreign affairs select committee, added: "If Exocets contained what was effectively an on/off switch, the French should have shared that with us.

"If it turns out that information was withheld, that would be one of the most shameful episodes in Anglo-French relations... we owe it to the families of those who died, and to history, to get to the truth."

The missiles were made by the French firm Aerospatiale, which has denied kill switches existed.

The Ministry of Defence and Downing Street both declined to comment.