The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is to respond to growing public pressure over nuclear weapons by announcing a cut in the number of Trident nuclear submarines from four to three. The cut would form part of international agreements on weapons reduction pioneered by the US President Barack Obama.
The move follows increasing pressure on the government to delay or abandon plans for Trident renewal. Campaigners, charities and faith groups have called for the Trident nuclear weapons system not to be renewed, a position consistently backed by a majority of the public in opinion polls.
Obama's plans for major cuts in nuclear warheads and his talks with the Russian government on the subject have put further pressure on Brown to show that Britain is reducing rather than increasing its nuclear arsenal.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) welcomed the news, calling it a “serious and positive step”. But they insisted that “the cuts cannot stop here”.
However, Christian leaders opposed to Trident gave a considerably less favourable response. In a joint statement, the Methodist Church, Baptist Union and United Reformed Church called the move "a feeble and ineffective gesture".
"It is becoming ever clearer that our future security cannot rely on the outmoded concept of nuclear deterrence" they said, "As Christians, we believe that a world free of nuclear weapons is not only desirable but realistic".
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesperson, Ed Davey, described the cut as “tinkering at the edges”. His party wants to replace Trident with a cheaper and less powerful nuclear weapons system.
CND chair Kate Hudson said that maintaining nuclear arsenals would “encourage other states to acquire nuclear weapons. By failing to disarm, we encourage proliferation and put ourselves - and the whole world - at greater risk”.
Some predict that Brown will also reduce the number of UK nuclear warheads, which currently stands at 160.
Claims and predictions have been flying around for some days, with ministers opposed to Trident renewal apparently briefing the media about internal cabinet controversies.
Calls for an alternative to Trident have grown due to pressure on public spending as a result of the poor economic situation. While the government is continuing to claim that Trident renewal would cost around £20 billion, research published last week put the price at £95 billion.
However, the Prime Minister is expected to say that the decision is not based on economics, possibly to allay accusations of making security dependent on financial convenience.
Trident has taken so much criticism in recent weeks that a cut from four to three submarines is unlikely to prove controversial. The Tories' Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox – well-known for his enthusiasm for military solutions and the arms trade – already seems to support such a cut.
The arms firm BAE Systems, who are often accused of undue influence over the government and are expected to benefit most from the contracts for Trident renewal, have yet to comment on the news.