Church campaigners have been cheered by the news that the Liberal Democrats have become the first of the biggest parties to declare they will not renew Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, told BBC News this evening (Tuesday 16 June) that he was making the move because of the rapidly deteriorating public finances and because the case for nuclear weapons in the post-cold war world was a "complete fiction".
Campaigners have previously suggested that whilst the cost of a replacement for Trident could initially be £20 billion, the total would be £76 billion when the annual running costs were taken into account.
The Guardian newspaper reports that a paper prepared for Nick Clegg now talks of total costs amounting to between £94.7 billion and £104.2 billion, suggesting Trident could consume 9.97 per cent to 10.97 per cent of the defence budget.
On BBC 1’s The Big Questions on Sunday, Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley said that scrapping the Trident replacement could provide much needed long-term funds for the NHS, being close to the total annual spend on the Health Service.
The move by the Liberal Democrats will now increase the pressure on the other two main parties to consider ditching the nuclear replacement.
Clegg told the BBC: "New leadership in Russia, new leadership obviously in the White House and a wider geo-strategic appreciation means that a cold war missile system designed to penetrate Soviet defences and land in Moscow and St Petersburg at any time, in any weather, from any location anywhere round the planet, is not our foremost security challenge now. We have got to be grown-up and honest about it.
"We have to be realistic and candid about what we can and can't afford as a nation”.
"If we don't move with the times, if we don't accept circumstances have changed, if we don't accept our capacity to pay for everything we're paying for at the moment is going to be more limited in the future then I think we're not being candid with the British people, we're not being candid with ourselves."
Opposition to the government's plans to replace Trident have come from the Catholic church in Scotland, backed by the Vatican. It has also come from other mainline Christian denominations including the Methodist Church, Baptist Church and United Reformed Church.