The Independent View: MoD suppresses Lib Dem review and spending information on Trident ahead of Parliamentary decision

Liberal Democrats can be rightly proud of their record on challenging like-for-like Trident replacement and keeping Britain’s nuclear weapons near the top of the political agenda – certainly during the last general election campaign. But now it looks as though their coalition partners are moving to stifle the gains they have made. Not only has the Defence Secretary announced the suppression of the Lib Dem-led Trident Alternatives Review. He is also making a mockery of the delayed Trident replacement decision – scheduled for 2016 – by committing to spend £6 billion before that decision date. This is hardly fair play by any yardstick of coalition cooperation.

So it’s not surprising that Tessa Munt MP, well-known for her principled stance against nuclear weapons, had the following to say about this shabby and unaccountable behaviour:

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of openness at the MoD regarding the review on alternatives to Trident. This must not be delayed or hidden or re-branded whilst more and more contracts are signed which make Trident unstoppable after 2015.

No doubt Tessa’s concern will be echoed by many Liberal Democrat members and supporters, particularly from amongst those who have fought hard in recent times to ensure that their leadership holds the line on Trident – even if it’s not the full anti-nuclear position that many of them would prefer. After all, 2010 Party Conference delegates fought hard to secure the emergency debate which demanded due scrutiny, cost-saving measures and a rigorous review of alternatives to like-for-like replacement of Trident and secured this commitment by top levels of the party.

It is impossible to know – until an insider publishes their memoirs presumably – the exact extent to which Lib Dem ministerial intervention contributed to the Trident replacement delay. But certainly former Party President Baroness Scott thought that it was a pivotal factor. As she said in October 2010, after the delay was announced:

So Trident will not be renewed this parliament – not on a Liberal Democrat watch. Let us be clear, this is a significant victory for Liberal Democrat campaigners, and a fantastic example of what our Ministers can and do achieve in government.

Not long after, in May of this year, then Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced the Trident Alternatives Review – under the auspices of Lib Dem Defence Minister Nick Harvey and reporting to the Prime Minister and his deputy – to “review the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures”. This would enable the Lib Dems to put forward credible alternatives to like-for-like Trident replacement. Whilst many of us have argued that a ‘no-nuclear’ alternative should also be considered, nevertheless it was another Trident victory for the Lib Dems.

But the trouble with victories is that those on the losing side will then work to redress the balance.

It’s taken a few months, but the Tory backlash has started. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has stated, in an answer to a Parliamentary Question from Jeremy Corbyn MP, that “[t]here are…no plans to publish either the report or the information it draws upon.”  Read that again. Now ask yourself how a review designed to open up debate and scrutiny of plans to replace our nuclear weapons system cannot be made public.

Following this, Defence Minister Peter Luff has itemised £2bn of spending at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston where our nuclear warheads are made – also prior to any decision on upgrading them. This is in addition to the MoD’s projected £4bn which will be spent on replacement submarines before the ‘Main Gate’ decision point in 2016.

Both these developments are an insult, to parliamentarians as a whole, whose part in the decision-making process is being denied, and to Lib Dems in particular, who have made advances only to see them unilaterally – presumably – reversed. Tessa Munt MP is absolutely right to highlight the ‘lack of openness at the MoD’ and the fact that come 2016, the replacement of Trident could be presented to Parliament as a fait accompli. This cannot be countenanced and doubtless this view is widely shared amongst Lib Dems. Their fighting spirit, I am sure, will not allow the Tories to roll over them on this question.

Kate Hudson is the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Read more by or more about , , , , , , or .
This entry was posted in The Independent View.


  • Why the surprise? The Tories had no intention of scrapping Trident; an “independent” nuclear capability (no matter that it is impossible to imagine a feasible situation in which the UK might use ‘nukes’ without the US) gives a government a seat at the big boys’ table.
    It should be noted that, at the very start of the coalition, government statements were made regarding the ‘requirement’ for ongoing purchases on the Trident programme….

  • coldcomfort 8th Dec '11 - 4:56pm

    Hello again Jedibeeftrix. Some time since we last sparred. You are right. There is no credible alternative to Trident simply because there is no credible case for Trident in the 21st Century in the first place. What the defence of the UK needs – both to protect itself and to assist in international actions – is lots of soldiers withe finest possible equipment for rapid deployment and their own protection; a flexible airforce likewise, which means smaller faster long endurance aircraft carriers for the Navy – not the woolly mammoths we are currently building – and numerous high speed vessels to deal with pirates and such like. Unless we envisage a first strike use of nuclear weapons our possession of such things is also an irrelevance. When I’m already dead the ability to retaliate loses its significance.

  • David Allen 8th Dec '11 - 6:16pm

    “Libya was a success and thus gives legitimacy to R2P as a template for the future, which is exactly what France and Britain want. All they have to offer the UNSC in the 21st century is their high-tech ability to project power as the worlds policemen.”

    Iraq and Afghanistan were failures. Keep it quiet though. Careers in the military-industrial complex are much more important than the lives of a few people in faraway countries of which we know little.

  • Leekliberal 8th Dec '11 - 7:59pm

    Many Lib Dems who like me were committed multilateralists while the soviet nuclear threat existed are now opposed to any replacement for Trident. Our army desperately needs equipment to deal with the 21st Century challenges they face. We surely cannot afford it and who do it’s adherents think we could concieveably use it on? In the end how can we criticise Iran’s nuclear ambitions if we are unwilling to set an example by reducing by one the number of nations with nuclear weapoons?

  • Don Lawrence 8th Dec '11 - 10:36pm

    Sounds like we may be getting close to this coalition’s equivalent to the Welsh Lib Dem’ s Mike German moment. In the 2000-2003 coalition in Wales, a Labour minister failed/refused to implement a part of the agreed policy and the Welsh Lib Dems chose to cling to office rather than take a principled stand and vote them down.

    I hope that Nick will have the bottle to take the principled approach if the Cons try to push ahead with this. It would get us out of the nightmare of this coalition and might even save the party’s bacon.

  • Why don’t we spend money on defence kit we can actually use? Nuclear weapons were historically justified as being cost effective but how effective have they proved? No use against terrorism. No deterrent in the Falklands. No use in the Gulf. They won’t stop the next 7/7 or the next 9/11.

  • Jedibeeftrix – they offer no such guarantee. They only offer us protection against nations with rational leaders. Against irrational leaders they offer limited protection and only really the certainty of revenge.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Paul Barker
    Again, a pointless article - perhaps The Voice Team could think about rejecting pieces that are just nonsense ? Short of War, there is no chance of any result ...
  • David Allen
    "Unfair to say we ‘re saying nothing" Up to a point, yes. However, being against sewage dumping isn 't exactly sticking your head above the parapet and br...
  • Ruth Bright
    Caron, sorry to display my ignorance here but could you tell members like me outside Scotland more about the National care service stuff? Genuinely interested....
  • David Garlick
    Where is a JFK when you need someone to draw the line. No line ,no stopping Putin. rearming is essential. Is the current long away target sufficient? I think ...
  • Zachary Adam Barker
    "In his early career, Rasmussen was a strident critic of the welfare state, writing the book From Social State to Minimal State in 1993." What does this have...