The Liberal Democrat defence minister, Nick Harvey, has confirmed that the coalition government will push ahead with a like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system without considering alternatives.
Harvey last year described Trident as a “cold war relic” with no relevance to the “security threats of today or tomorrow”. But speaking in the Commons this week, he said that while aspects of the existing plan may be changed, Trident renewal as a whole will go ahead.
His words were sharply criticised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), who said that the Liberal Democrats did not appear to have gained any real concessions on nuclear arms from their Conservative coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats campaigned against like-for-like Trident replacement during the recent election campaign.
Trident renewal is opposed by a range of charities, NGOs and faith groups, including the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
While initial estimates placed the cost of renewal at around £15bn or £20bn, CND put the figure at £76bn, while researchers commissioned by Greenpeace have placed it at £94bn.
Nick Harvey insisted that as a result of the coalition agreement, the plan for Trident renewal would be scrutinised “to ensure value for money”.
He told MPs, that, "If the study were to conclude that a particular aspect of the existing plan did not represent good value for money, it might start looking at different ways of doing things”.
But he went on, “I have to stress that it is not a review in which we look at all the possible alternative ways in which we might provide a successor, and see which works out the cheapest”.
CND Chair Kate Hudson said that Harvey's words are “certain to distress the many voters who thought having Lib Dems in power would result in something better than this”. She added that, “seeking to tweak aspects of the ruinously expensive plan will not deliver significant savings”.
She pointed out that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has previously described the case for like-for-like replacement as a “complete fiction”.
Hudson added, "It is all the more extraordinary that this decision is going ahead when the United States and Russia have agreed bilateral nuclear warhead reductions and the recent UN non-proliferation conference has resoundingly endorsed the goal of a world without nuclear weapons”.