The question of the party’s stance on nuclear weapons has often been a hot topic at conference.

Our most recent policy was passed in 2017. It committed the party to supporting a step down the nuclear ladder – with a move away from the current continuous patrols of Trident submarines, to a stance where submarines are not continuously deployed. The thought was that this would require the construction of three new Trident submarines, rather than the planned four.

Spring 2017 now feels like a very long time ago – indeed, since that policy was passed we’ve had two elections (and three Prime Ministers), Brexit, the Trump presidency, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I was asked by the FCC and the FPC to write a spokesperson’s paper, and an accompanying motion, to bring to Autumn Conference 2022. I consulted widely across the party and spoke to external experts too – thanks to everyone who helped inform the paper.

It was clear that the dramatic deterioration of security in Europe necessitated a review of our previous stance.

We have long been the most forward-thinking UK-wide party on global disarmament, and the 2017 policy is part of that tradition.

But we have also always argued for flexibility – indeed, our proposals always included the possibility that changes in the strategic environment might require steps up, as well as down, the nuclear ladder, were that necessary to keep the people of this country safe.

At a dangerous time such as this, we must be realistic. It’s clear that choosing to take a step down the nuclear ladder of the kind proposed in 2017 – in the face of Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of nuclear use – would send entirely the wrong signal to that despot. It risks encouraging him to be even more gung-ho with his nuclear brinkmanship.

And it would send the wrong signal to our NATO allies, who are protected under our nuclear deterrent, about the UK’s willingness to come to their defence. At a time where we should be showing European leadership, it would instead send a message of insularity.

Nor would taking such a step in this environment do anything to improve the chances for global disarmament.

That’s why I am putting forward a new proposal – at the heart of which is for the UK to maintain the current posture of continuous, at-sea deployment. That would mean a Trident submarine patrolling UK waters at all times.

But we are, and will always be, a party of global disarmament. Which is why our plan to move away from continuous patrols should remain a credible option for UK leadership on disarmament – when the security situation is more conducive to progress. Similarly, we should make a call on the fourth and final new Trident submarine on the basis of a full assessment of the strategic environment, when major fabrication is about to begin.

And we must do all we can to meet our obligations towards global disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, even though we acknowledge that in this challenging context, the chance of significant progress is limited. Indeed, the increased nuclear risk following the invasion of Ukraine should embolden us to do more.

Yet the Conservative Government is, shamefully, taking us backwards. So we must reverse their terrible decision to increase the stockpile of nuclear weapons.

But we must go further – making global disarmament a diplomatic priority, accompanied with meaningful engagement with countries that do not have nuclear weapons on disarmament initiatives, and exploring opportunities for further disarmament with those nuclear weapons states, other than Russia, which may be more responsive to discussions – especially in areas such as de-alerting and transparency. We should also advance work on verification, which is a hugely important tool in enabling certainty as states disarm.

That is the way forward: being realistic, as we always have, about what the security context permits us to do. But laying the groundwork for future disarmament now, so that when the global security situation improves, we can capitalise on it in a way that we failed to do at the end of the Cold War.

Read my paper – The UK’s nuclear deterrent – here.

 

 

* Jamie Stone is the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.