As a British government minister, deputy leader of the House of Commons Nigel Griffiths quit today in protest at plans to replace Trident, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his ‘astonishment’ at the UK’s nuclear policy.
Mr Gorbachev, who championed disarmament moves and helped to bring the world back from the nuclear brink in the 1980s, has joined worldwide calls for PM Tony Blair to abandon plans to renew Britain's missiles.
The ex-Soviet president, who now runs a global think tank, accused Mr Blair of ignoring the spirit of the treaties which ended the Cold War nuclear stand-off.
In a letter to The Times newspaper, he says that the "responsible course of action" would be to honour the next non-proliferation talks in 2010. At present, the UK is set on a course to undermine them
The churches, peace campaigners and – according to opinion surveys – the majority of people in the UK – oppose New Labour’s pro-nuclear stance. There is also a significant rebellion in the party, but the government is confident about winning the forthcoming Commons vote because of backing from the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats, who favour delaying a decision on replacing Trident, will vote against renewing the government's policy. Their leader Sir Menzies supports halving the number of warheads stockpiled by the UK but delaying a decision on replacing them until 2014.
In his letter to The Times, Mikhail Gorbachev points to a warning by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, that many countries were already reluctant to ratify an additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty imposing more effective nuclear controls.
"Under such circumstances the UK government's rush to deploy nuclear missiles whose service life would extend until 2050 is, to say the least, astonishing," the letter says.
It continues: "The Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons commits the nuclear powers to effective measures of nuclear disarmament. In fact, the entire structure of that treaty, which is already under considerable strain, rests on that commitment. The decision to deploy new nuclear missiles would be in contradiction to the spirit of the agreements that helped to end the Cold War."