The Independent View: We cannot have back-door Trident replacement

Delaying the decision, on whether or not to replace Trident, until 2016, has been the best bit of news to come out of the coalition government. This was announced, to the delight and relief of many, in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) last October.Of crucial importance, it makes Trident a general election issue – a fact, as Nick Harvey has stated, ‘of huge political significance’. Indeed, it holds out the possibility of defeat for a new generation of nuclear weapons. Given that the majority of the population has for some time backed scrapping Trident, this is not a utopian fantasy but a graspable reality.

Many assume that the delay is due in no small part to the presence of the Liberal Democrats in government. At last year’s annual conference an emergency motion made the party’s position abundantly clear: that Trident should be included in the SDSR. While this fell short of the disarmament position held by many members, nevertheless it was a clear indicator that there could not be business as usual on nuclear weapons while the Lib Dems were in the government. Indeed, the party’s president was moved to state that: ‘Trident will not be renewed this parliament – not on a Liberal Democrat watch’.

In this light, yesterday’s revelation that the MoD is already planning to order the steel to build the first submarine is not going to go down well. A number of questions on Trident have been put on behalf of Parliamentary CND including from Tessa Munt and Julian Huppert. One queried whether “steel for the substantial construction of the hull structure of the first boat of the Trident replacement programme will be made as a long-lead purchase prior to main gate [the 2016 decision point]”, to which Dr Fox replied in the affirmative.

How can this development be interpreted? It seems like a piece of double-dealing of the worst sort – that the government is saying one thing and doing another, pulling the wool over the eyes not only of the public, but of its Liberal Democrat supporters. There is also another possibility: that the MoD is pursuing its own track, irrespective of the political agreement and process set out by the coalition government. After all, Liam Fox strongly backs Trident replacement despite being angry about the MoD having to pay for it from the Defence budget.

Whatever’s happening behind the scenes, the fact is that the government has stated that the decision point is 2016. That must be held to – and we must all play our part in ensuring that it is not ridden rough-shod over by pro-Trident forces. We cannot and will not have Trident replacement through the back door. But one thing is abundantly clear: the role of the Liberal Democrats in ensuring a democratic and accountable process is absolutely crucial.

Kate Hudson is General Secretary of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.


  • I think this is yet more evidence as to why the Lib Dems have failed their supporters under Coalition.

    The party has hinted and nudged since the SDSR to this blog and other media outlets about how Trident was delayed due to direct Lib Dem influence. A few weeks back, Dave demolished this notion in PMQs – and now this news once and for all destroys this self-propogating myth.

    Whether you support Trident replacement or not, one thing is for sure. The Lib Dems have got no say in what’s happening with it.

  • I think the Lib Dem leadership have been suckered here (or have indulged in a bit of spin to keep supporters onside). The decision “gates” appear to have not really been moved as this would be the stage the MOD would have been at anyway.

    What is the question now is how much pressure Lib Dem backbenches are prepared to put on the Government. If they keep it to this issue only then they will achieve nothing. f they make it plain they will withold support on other issues the Government may have no choice but to move.

    It’s worth noting how little Fox thinks of the coalition, if he thought the Tories would win an election he would undoubtedly push as hard as he could….

  • @Geoffrey Payne

    Of course Lib Dem opposition to Trident replacement helped the Treasury win this battle

    Geoffrey, this is now known to be entirely false. It would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

  • Leviticus18_23 21st Feb '11 - 1:58pm

    We don’t need nukes anymore. We probably never really needed them…

    The chances are we’ll get them from the next government. And there’s nothing either of the LibDem MPs will be able to do about it…

  • David Allen 21st Feb '11 - 2:15pm

    The truth is that this is a major engineering project which has already begun. The so-called “main gate” is a secondary decision point, some way into the programme, at which it would be possible for a government to change its mind and abort the project, albeit only after having spent a lot of money. The orders which are scheduled before 2016, starting now, have to be placed within 2011-2016. If they were not, then it would be necessary to postpone the “main gate” beyond 2016, because necessary deliveries like the steel would not be ready for it on time.

    So, the coalition has already decided to go ahead with Trident. Moving the “main gate” to just after the election, instead of just before it, is the sort of empty gesture that Nick Clegg has made his stock in trade.

  • I don’t know how many times I have to repeat this – A like for like Trident replacement is going ahead and nothing the LibDems do or claim will prevent it.

    Cameron and Clegg did another of their squalid little deals for the LibDem Autumn Conference last year so that Clegg could claim some kind of victory on Trident.

    Sadly other have perpetrated the myth Like Tim Farron.

    Waken up LibDems you are getting a like for like Trident replacement and Cameron has made that clear and the pre-planning and contracts are bang on schedule and have never altered.

  • @Geoffrey Payne

    Cameron doesn’t care what Clegg or the Liberals want or think on Trident or on anything else that is important to the Tories either.

    I don’t understand how the electorate will decide anything – after watching the tacky coalition deal you did with the Tories the electorate knows that neither the LibDems nor Tories will keep Manifesto Commitments if it suits them to break them for party political gain.

    There was only one chance of stopping Trident and that was in this Parliament and the LibDems have blown it. Trident replacement is going ahead and nothing will stop it so stop living in cloud cuckoo land.

  • richard heathcote 21st Feb '11 - 5:57pm

    i think the deals have already been made moving the decision “gate” to the next parliament was for political reasons, to take pressure off the coalition.When we get to 2016 it will have gone too far to cancel. i dont think any party can stop trident even if they wanted to, which i really dont think they do.

  • @jedibeeftrix

    To be honest I don’t think they did – my beef is that Clegg and other leading LibDems have been conning their supporters – and if they are prepared to com their own supporters they are capabale of anything as the have amply demonstrated and it will keep getting worse. I wonder if they’ll all be applauding Clegg at the Spring Conference?

  • @richard heathcote

    I’m not that sure that moving the Main Gate actually means anything in terms of delay because as far as I can make out everything has been continuing more or less on the old time scale although I accept that major sums have not needed to be spent yet.

    But Initial Gate is upon us shortly and by Main Gate we will have committed most of the spending so if we were to cancel – which we won’t – we would need to pay the dosh to suppliers and contractors anyway.

    As I said months ago it’s the way it works in the MoD and the arms industry and it was exactly the same with the aircraft carriers and I’m amazed it wasn’t with Nimrod replacement.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Feb '11 - 8:47pm

    The decision on what the Trident replacement would look like was never going to happen during this parliament, because its successor would always be able to override it. Formalising this was just a way to avoid any conflict on the issue within the coalition.

    All three parties have long-since agreed that Trident must be replaced. The question was never whether it should be scrapped or not. The question is what it should be replaced with. The pre-election Tory position was that we needed a new system built with a design objective of turning Moscow into a smoking crater, the same as the old one. The pre-election Lib Dem position was that this was hilariously obsolete and we needed something appropriate to this century (and that probably a cost-sharing initiative with France would be wise and should be explored, as our allied neighbour has exactly the same issues).

    Ordering the raw materials for submarines is something of a non-event since it’s certain to be useful for some purpose later. Any Trident replacement is going to need submarines.

  • “Ordering the raw materials for submarines is something of a non-event since it’s certain to be useful for some purpose later.”

    Sorry, but there’s a technical term for a job lot of steel products which are only the right size and specifications for the job which you have now decided not to go ahead with. It’s “Scrap”.

  • If the Lib Dems change policy and move towards Trident replacement in our manifesto for the next election we will lose what little credibility we have left and will doomed to electoral oblivion for the forseeable future.

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