There are increasing signs that the UK government may reconsider plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, with ministers hinting that renewal may be delayed, if not abandoned altogether.
Pressure to delay or abandon Trident renewal has grown in recent weeks in the light of Barack Obama's plans for international agreements on major cuts to nuclear arsenals. Trident has been consistently opposed by a number of NGOs, charities, churches and other faith groups.
Shirley Williams, the Liberal Democrat peer appointed by Gordon Brown as an adviser on the issue, said today (22 September) that the government might delay a decision for two years, giving time to see what progress Obama has made.
“Putting Trident on the table might provide a crucial step in the negotiating process,” she said, “But we should not kid ourselves that we are part of the main show, which is American and Russian”.
However, there is little doubt that the cabinet is split on the issue. The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, recently insisted that there is “no intention” of “moving position on Trident”.
The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, yesterday appeared to contradict this, writing in the Guardian that “As soon as it becomes useful for the UK arsenal to be included in the broader negotiations, we stand ready to participate and act”.
Today, the Times reports on private briefings from “senior government figures” who suggest that Labour will ditch its commitment to Trident in favour of a cheaper and smaller nuclear system.
The recession has increased calls to save money by abandoning Trident renewal, with one report last week predicting that the plan would cost £95 billion – nearly five times higher than originally predicted.
A YouGov poll published yesterday showed only 23 per cent of the population in support of Trident renewal, with 40 per cent wanting a cheaper and less powerful alternative and 23 per cent wanting the UK to give up nuclear weapons altogether.