Ministers urged to include Trident in Defence Review

By staff writers
22 May 2010

Pressure is growing on the coalition government's position on Trident after ministers appeared to rule out including it in their review of defence strategy.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has responded by criticising the coalition's claim to be promoting "new politics", insisting that the policies they have published on defence suggest that “they have no new ideas on Trident replacement”.

The Liberal Democrats are continuing to face criticism for abandoning their position on the Trident nuclear weapons system during their coalition negotiations with the Conservative Party. They had previously opposed a “like-for-like” renewal of Trident and called for all nuclear weapons to be included in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR).

The new Tory Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, launched the SDR days after the election. But he does not plan to review the place of Trident.

Trident has faced sustained criticism from churches, faith groups, NGOs and trades unions. Estimates for the cost of renewal have varied from £15 billion to £100 billion.

The coalition agreement reached by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats states that the government is committed to “the maintenance of Britain's nuclear deterrent” and the “renewal of Trident”. Fox has made clear that he wants no change from the replacement programme planned by the previous Labour government.

CND have urged supporters to email Fox, along with junior Defence Minister Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat. Only last year, Harvey described Trident as a “Cold War relic” that is not “relevant to the security threats of today and tomorrow”.

But CND chair Kate Hudson criticised the Liberal Democrats, saying that “they have not even secured a commitment to including Trident” in the Review.

“Those voters opposed to Trident replacement will have little confidence that the Lib Dems will impact on the government's direction,” argued Hudson, “President Obama campaigned for change and is going forward on this issue, delivering cuts in US nuclear warhead numbers. I'm afraid our new government is going nowhere."

The coalition have agreed that the Liberal Democrats will be able “to make the case for alternatives” to Trident, although it is unclear what this means in practice. It is thought that Conservative ministers will respect the freedom of Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in votes on Trident.

In practice, it is possible that a number of Liberal Democrat backbenchers will rebel against this part of the deal and vote against Trident. In this situation, the votes of Labour MPs could be crucial. Labour's current policy is pro-Trident, but Labour MPs are split on the issue and some will try to raise it during the party's forthcoming leadership election.

There will be many campaigners encouraging them to do so. Sam Walton of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) this week urged “all MPs to speak out against Trident at every opportunity, regardless of their party”.

Meanwhile, anti-nuclear activist Penny Stone, who was recently arrested while protesting at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment, said that the Liberal Democrats' deal over Trident was “very disappointing”.

Speaking to the Quaker magazine The Friend, Stone said, “As it becomes increasingly clear that the government wants to replace Trident and make the world less safe, it becomes increasingly important for us to disarm the facilities ourselves”. She suggested that therefore “nonviolent direct action becomes even more relevant, in conjunction with dialogue with elected politicians”.

[Ekk/1]

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