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Trident victory possible

November 2005

There is growing optimism that no decision will be taken on Trident in this parliament. Defence Secretary John Reid talked about a decision in the fourth year of this parliament and later said it may not be taken in this parliament. Today's story from the Guardian (1st Nov 2005>

MPs press Reid for vote on Trident replacement · Backbenchers deny open debate will bring division Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent Tuesday November 1, 2005 The Guardian

The defence secretary, John Reid, was yesterday pressed by angry Labour backbenchers to give a clear commitment to allow MPs a vote on the possible purchase of a new British nuclear deterrent. The MPs also demanded that the government publish a green paper on replacing Trident with a new weapons systems.

A decision on a Trident replacement has to be taken in this parliament, but Mr Reid has insisted no detailed work on options is underway. Some MPs also complained that they had been denied the chance last night at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party to debate and vote on a specific motion questioning the wisdom of purchasing a £20bn replacement for Trident.

The elected Labour parliamentary committee recommended last week that MPs do not vote on the issue, arguing that it would be divisive. They instead agreed that Mr Reid attend last night's PLP meeting.

Mr Reid told the group that the debate would not be held in a "hole in the corner way", but made it clear that he believed some kind of upgraded deterrent would be required. "I defy anyone here to say we will not need a nuclear weapon in 20 to 50 years time," he said.

He gave no specific response to the call for a green paper, but said Britain was unlikely to put its deterrent into multilateral negotiations until the US and Russians had cut their arsenals. He said he knew the manifesto was unfashionable in some quarters, but said: "If we had learnt any lesson from history it is that we leave the Labour manifesto only with great care and deliberation."

Gordon Prentice, the MP who tabled a motion for a vote in June, said yesterday: "It is clearly in breach of the parliamentary party's standing orders to prevent a vote so long as the motion is properly submitted at least a week in advance. This motion was tabled in June after the prime minister said he wanted to listen to backbenchers more. It read: "This PLP questions the wisdom of spending billions on Trident replacement."

Another opponent of Trident on the Labour backbenches, Paul Flynn, argued: "We are trying to put this on the agenda of the Labour party, but it is getting messy. The leadership is against a vote on the grounds that it is divisive, but there is a general understanding that democracy normally involves an expression of differing views.

"There is a bow wave of discontent spreading on issues ranging from primary care trusts, trust schools, civil nuclear power and now the nuclear deterrent. As we are told of the dangers of division, the cabinet has of course over the past week behaved as a model of probity and unity."

No vote on Nuclear £10 billion


Britain will need to spend on nuclear weapons, PM insists By Andy McSmith Published: 20 October 2005 Britain needs nuclear weapons even though they are no use against the threat of terrorism, Tony Blair has announced.

His remarks yesterday were the most public indication yet that the Prime Minister has made up his mind to commit Britain to spending billions of pounds on a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace the ageing Trident fleet.

Mr Blair also said that the decision would be made "in the current parliament" and dropped a strong hint that he means to do it without a Commons vote, implying that the issue will be settled before he leaves Downing Street.

Rebel Labour MPs retaliated with plans to test the strength of opposition by forcing a vote at a private weekly meeting of Labour MPs on 31 October. The rebels claim that the only way the Government can avoid defeat will be for the whips to pull in the so-called "payroll vote" - the ministers, parliamentary secretaries and others who would face the sack if they voted against government policy.

Mr Blair was challenged during Prime Minister's Questions by the Labour backbencher Paul Flynn, over revelations in The Independent that the decision to update Trident had in effect been made and that preparatory work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston had begun.

The Government said Aldermaston's budget had been doubled and scientists had been recruited to ensure that the Trident fleet was kept in working order, but a political decision to replace it had not yet been made.

Mr Flynn asked Mr Blair whether he agreed with sentiments expressed by the former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who died in August, that nuclear weapons were "hopelessly irrelevant" for the task of combating terrorism and acting as an international peacekeeper. He also called for a Commons vote before an official decision was made. Downing Street had been given advance warning of Mr Flynn's question, so Mr Blair had a written statement prepared. But before he began, he made an unscripted comment.

He said: "I'm sure there will be a debate and I have no doubt at all that there will be a great deal of discussion as the months and years unfold. Although I do not think anyone pretends that the independent nuclear deterrent is a defence against terrorism, nonetheless I do believe it is an important part of our defence."

Mr Blair then read out the prepared line: "No decisions on replacing Trident have yet been taken but these are likely to be necessary in the current parliament. It is too early to rule in or rule out any particular option.

"As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to retaining the UK's independent nuclear deterrent. We will take our decision, ultimately, in the best interests of the country."

Mr Flynn said afterwards: "I thought I asked a very reasonable question. It doesn't seem unreasonable that if you're going to spend between £10bn and £15bn, you should have a vote on it. Since he is not going to allow that, we will have to go about it in some other way to show the extent of opposition.

"I cannot think of any conceivable use that nuclear weapons could have, apart from the prestige they give us. They also undermine our position in international talks. How dare we tell Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, when we are going ahead with updating ours?"

Britain needs nuclear weapons even though they are no use against the threat of terrorism, Tony Blair has announced.

His remarks yesterday were the most public indication yet that the Prime Minister has made up his mind to commit Britain to spending billions of pounds on a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace the ageing Trident fleet.

Mr Blair also said that the decision would be made "in the current parliament" and dropped a strong hint that he means to do it without a Commons vote, implying that the issue will be settled before he leaves Downing Street.

Rebel Labour MPs retaliated with plans to test the strength of opposition by forcing a vote at a private weekly meeting of Labour MPs on 31 October.

The rebels claim that the only way the Government can avoid defeat will be for the whips to pull in the so-called "payroll vote" - the ministers, parliamentary secretaries and others who would face the sack if they voted against government policy.

Mr Blair was challenged during Prime Minister's Questions by the Labour backbencher Paul Flynn, over revelations in The Independent that the decision to update Trident had in effect been made and that preparatory work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston had begun.

The Government said Aldermaston's budget had been doubled and scientists had been recruited to ensure that the Trident fleet was kept in working order, but a political decision to replace it had not yet been made.

Mr Flynn asked Mr Blair whether he agreed with sentiments expressed by the former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who died in August, that nuclear weapons were "hopelessly irrelevant" for the task of combating terrorism and acting as an international peacekeeper. He also called for a Commons vote before an official decision was made. Downing Street had been given advance warning of Mr Flynn's question, so Mr Blair had a written statement prepared. But before he began, he made an unscripted comment.

He said: "I'm sure there will be a debate and I have no doubt at all that there will be a great deal of discussion as the months and years unfold. Although I do not think anyone pretends that the independent nuclear deterrent is a defence against terrorism, nonetheless I do believe it is an important part of our defence."

Mr Blair then read out the prepared line: "No decisions on replacing Trident have yet been taken but these are likely to be necessary in the current parliament. It is too early to rule in or rule out any particular option.

"As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to retaining the UK's independent nuclear deterrent. We will take our decision, ultimately, in the best interests of the country."

Mr Flynn said afterwards: "I thought I asked a very reasonable question. It doesn't seem unreasonable that if you're going to spend between £10bn and £15bn, you should have a vote on it. Since he is not going to allow that, we will have to go about it in some other way to show the extent of opposition.

"I cannot think of any conceivable use that nuclear weapons could have, apart from the prestige they give us. They also undermine our position in international talks. How dare we tell Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, when we are going ahead with updating ours?"




16 October 2005 23:32
Home > News > UK > UK Politics

Revealed: Blair's nuclear bombshell
By Andy McSmith
Published: 17 October 2005

Tony Blair is facing a political backlash over his decision to order a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace the ageing Trident fleet at a cost of billions of pounds.

Rebel Labour MPs will meet tomorrow to coordinate their fight against his plans, which seem set to provoke one of the biggest shows of opposition to Mr Blair from inside his own party since the start of the Iraq war.

Opposition to an updated version of Trident goes far beyond MPs who object to nuclear weapons on principle. It includes senior figures in the military, who question whether this is the best way to spend a tight military budget.

A senior defence department source told The Independent that there was "a serious debate" going on "at all levels" over the long-term role of the armed forces and whether a nuclear deterrent was still needed. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is believed to have privately queried the huge cost.

An indication of the sums involved was revealed last week when the Defence Secretary, John Reid, released updated figures showing that Britain's nuclear bomb factory at Aldermaston has been given a £2bn budget for the next three years.

The cost of running the Atomic Weapons Establishment has averaged £300m a year, at current prices, since 2000. Next year's costs will jump to £507m, rising still higher to about £1.5bn over the next two years.

Officially, the task of Aldermaston's scientists is to ensure that the Trident fleet is kept in working order. Their real task, according to military sources, is to make sure that the scientific know-how is in place to create a whole new generation of nuclear weapons as soon as a political decision has been made.

The Independent revealed in May that Mr Blair had decided to go ahead with a replacement for Trident, at a total cost likely to exceed £10bn, but that he was delaying the announcement until after the general election.

In June, the Prime Minister announced that he wanted to "listen" to the views of MPs before making a final decision. However, both he and Mr Reid have pointedly avoiding saying that MPs will be given an opportunity to vote on the nuclear issue.

The "listening exercise" promised by Mr Blair began at the end of last week when Mr Reid's parliamentary private secretary, Siobhain McDonagh, sent an e-mail to all Labour MPs inviting anyone concerned about nuclear weapons to meet the Defence Secretary in groups of six at a time.

Although Trident's life could be extended for another 20 years, a decision on whether to replace it has to be made much sooner, because of the long "lead-in" time needed to develop and test new weapons.

Mr Blair is thought to be determined to have the matter settled before he leaves 10 Downing Street. He believes that Britain owes it to the US to remain a member of the nuclear club.

Yesterday, Mr Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, held talks at Chequers with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, about the worsening relations with Iran. The US government, backed by Britain, is intent on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Critics say Britain's case is weakened if Mr Blair insists on rebuilding Britain's nuclear arsenal.

Three Labour MPs - Gordon Prentice, Paul Flynn and John Austin - have drawn up a resolution questioning the cost of Trident, and have demanded a vote on it at one of the meetings which Labour MPs hold every Monday. Mr Flynn, a member of the Defence Committee of the Western European Union, said: "We haven't got any enemies that we could possibly want to aim nuclear weapons at now. The case that John Reid has given for these weapons is that we might possibly have the right sort of enemy in 15 years time, which doesn't seem like a good reason for spending billions of pounds. Our future role is going to be as peacekeepers, in which we perform better than anyone else.'"

Last week, Mr Prentice met the chairman of the parliamentary party, Ann Clwyd, who urged him to drop the idea of forcing a vote, fearing that it would give an impression of a divided Labour Party. She also warned them that they would probably be defeated, and that even if they won, they would not alter government policy.

"We said we were prepared to be reasonable. If she didn't want a vote in the Parliamentary Labour Party, then John Reid should come to come to the Commons so that we could have a vote there," Mr Prentice said.

If they are not promised a Commons vote, the rebels have marked 31 October as they day they will force a vote among MPs.

Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, said: "This is at a time when they are going to cut down on both the navy and the air force. It requires a whole review of the nuclear stock and what it is for, when even the Americans are developing different types of nuclear weapons.

"But there is also the politics and the macho posturing, and the issue of jobs, which we will hear a lot about."

Asked about the reason for the doubling of Aldermaston's budget, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The planned expenditure is aimed at maintaining key capabilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment [AWE] to ensure that we can safely support the Trident warhead throughout its planned in-service life. In the absence of the ability to undertake live nuclear testing, given that the UK has signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it is necessary to invest in the facilities at AWE which will provide continuing assurance that the existing Trident warhead stockpile is reliable and safe."





Three Labour MPs tabled a motion in June to the Parliamentary Labour Party questioning the need for a replacement for Britain's nuclear weapon. Gordon Prentice, John Austin and Paul Flynn will press the issue to a vote. One of Robin Cook's final articles powerfully argued for a parliamentary debate.

Worse than irrelevant

Replacing Trident is against both our national interests and our international obligations

Robin Cook
Friday July 29, 2005
The Guardian


Down at Aldermaston they are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of your money on a refit of the production line for nuclear warheads. We are assured this does not mean that any decision has been made to replace the Trident nuclear system. Dear me no, the investment is merely intended to keep open our options.

If we want to exercise the option of producing more weapons, we are told we must make up our minds in this parliament. This is not because Trident is in imminent danger of going out of service. The British submarines can keep on diving and surfacing for another two decades. The problem is that it will take that long to order, build and commission another expensive fleet to replace them.


This is an excellent opportunity for Tony Blair to prove that he is a real moderniser. It is a fixed pole of his political pitch that he represents a clean break from old Labour. It was the Wilson government of the 60s that built, launched and named the Polaris fleet. It was Jim Callaghan who first struck the Trident deal with President Carter, eccentrically in a beach hut on Guadeloupe. There could not be a more convincing way for Tony Blair to break from the past and to demonstrate that he is a true moderniser than by making the case that nuclear weapons now have no relevance to Britain's defences in the modern world.

The justification for both Polaris and Trident was that we faced in the Soviet Union a great, hostile bear bristling with nuclear claws. The missiles were put on submarines precisely because the ocean bed was the only place they could hide from Russian firepower. But those are calculations from a long-vanished era. The Soviet Union has disintegrated, its satellites are our allies in the European Union, and the west is now sinking large funds into helping Russia to defuse and dismantle the warheads that we once feared.

No other credible nuclear threat has stepped forward to replace the Soviet Union as a rationale for the British nuclear weapons system. To be sure, two or three other nations have emerged with a crude nuclear capability, but none of them has developed the capacity or the motivation to attack Britain.

It is not easy to see what practical return Britain ever got out of the extravagant sums we invested in our nuclear systems. None of our wars was ever won by them and none of the enemies we fought was deterred by them. General Galtieri was not deterred from seizing the Falklands, although Britain possessed the nuclear bomb and Argentina did not. But the collapse of the cold war has removed even the theoretical justification for our possessing strategic nuclear weapons.

However, the spirit of the cold war lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go of fear and who need an enemy to buttress their own identity. Hence the vacuum left by the cold war has been filled by George Bush's global war on terror. It is tragically true that terrorism, partly as a result, is now a worse threat than ever before.

But nuclear weapons are hopelessly irrelevant to that terrorist threat. The elegant theories of deterrence all appear beside the point in the face of a suicide bomber who actively courts martyrdom. And if we ever were deluded enough to wreak our revenge by unleashing a latter-day Hiroshima on a Muslim city, we would incite fanatical terrorism against ourselves for a generation.

Investment in a new strategic nuclear system would be worse than an irrelevance. It would be an extravagant diversion of resources from priorities more relevant to combating terrorism. Trident cost us more than £12.5bn - roughly half the whole defence budget for a year. Even if its successor did not have a higher price tag, it could not be bought without cutting back on the conventional capacity of our armed forces. It will be more difficult this time to find the funds for a new nuclear weapons system without those cuts being painful, because the defence budget as a percentage of GDP is now much less than the level that accommodated the Polaris and Trident programmes.

Our army is already shedding both troops and tanks. Yet Britain's most valuable role in global stability is the professional, experienced contribution of our soldiers to peacekeeping missions, which earns us much more goodwill round the world than our nuclear submarines prowling the seas. The world would be less stable and Britain would be less secure if we were to trade in even more of those army units for son-of-Trident. It is not just peaceniks who would oppose such a choice. I suspect a clear majority of the officer corps would vote against diverting the defence budget into another generation of nuclear weapons.

It is not as if the large sums that would be required to keep us in the nuclear game would buy us an independent weapon. Dan Plesch documents in an impressive forthcoming report that all levels of the Trident system depend on US cooperation. The missiles are not even owned by us, but are leased from the Pentagon in an arrangement that Denis Healey once dubbed as "rent-a-rocket". Renewing our collaboration with the US on nuclear weapons will deepen the bonds between Downing Street and the White House, at the very time when the rest of the nation longs for a more independent stance.

It is therefore against Britain's national interests to replace Trident. It is also against our international obligations, notably the commitment in the non-proliferation treaty to proceed in good faith to nuclear disarmament.

To be fair, New Labour has so far had a decent record on progress towards this objective. In the past decade Labour has scrapped Britain's other nuclear weapons, signed up to the test ban treaty and reduced the alert status of our submarines by several days. But these positive steps will be reversed if we now charge off in the opposite direction by ordering a brand-new nuclear system.

There is a chasm too wide for logic to leap, between arguing that Britain must maintain nuclear weapons to guarantee its security, and lecturing Iran et al that the safety of the world would be compromised if they behaved in the same way.

Despite the current anxieties over proliferation, more nations have given up nuclear weapons over the past generation than have developed them. Brazil and Argentina negotiated a treaty to terminate their rival nuclear programmes. Ukraine and other former Soviet states renounced the nuclear capacity they inherited. South Africa, post-apartheid, abandoned its nuclear programme and dismantled its weapon capacity.

None of those countries regards itself as any less secure than before. Nor need we, if our leadership can find the courage to let Trident be the end of Britain's futile and costly obsession with nuclear-weapon status.

r.cook@guardian.co.uk