Brown disappoints churches with backing for nuclear weapons
In a surprise move that will be greeted with dismay by many church leaders, Gordon Brown announced yesterday (Wednesday) that he was committed to ensuring Britain retains its independent nuclear weapons.
The announcement by the UK Chancellor, who is popular with many Christians following his work toward cancelling debts in the developing world, came in his annual Mansion House speech. In effect, political commentators say it sets the terms of what is expected to be a difficult Labour debate over whether to replace Trident, Britain's current nuclear deterrent.
But many church groups and church leaders have made their opposition to a replacement for Trident clear, particularly in Scotland as four Trident nuclear submarines have been based at Faslane on the Clyde.
In April, Scotlandís eight Roman Catholic bishops made their own position ñ and that of the Church ñ clear. A month later, Scotland's churches launched a joint petition urging the UK Government not to replace the Trident system.
Last year, British church leaders wrote to a national newspaper urging that the Government spell out the conditions under which it might forego a replacement of Trident.
The latest announcement by Gordon Brown is particularly surprising as only hours earlier at Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair had sidestepped setting out his view on replacing Trident, and promised a debate in parliament before any decision was made by the cabinet.
Mr Blair has long said a decision on whether to replace Trident has to be made in this parliament, largely since the existing Vanguard submarines will soon be obsolete.
During the 2005 election, Mr Blair said he backed a British deterrent in principle. Treasury sources made it clear that although Mr Brown talked about retaining the nuclear deterrent rather than replacing it, the chancellor was giving his personal backing to a new generation of missiles. They added that the chancellor would look at all options, even if that meant spending £20bn or more on a replacement for Trident.
Trident, introduced in 1994, is made up of three components, four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered submarines, each carrying a maximum of 48 nuclear warheads, which are mounted on up to 16 Trident D5 submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
Kate Hudson, chairwoman of CND, said: "We were hoping that any future prime minister would stick by the commitments made last year by then defence secretary John Reid for a full public and parliamentary debate.
"Our feeling is, statements like this from someone as significant as Gordon Brown pre-empts that debate."
Ms Hudson said this was the moment to start multilateral disarmament talks and added: "When we face no nuclear threat, to decide on a new Trident replacement is beginning a new nuclear arms race."