Trident tested: The debate

Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to support the Trident nuclear weapons deterrent. So what's changed? And what happens now to the submarine programme?

Thursday, 21st July 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 21st July 2016, 11:04 am
Divisive issue: Trident

The debate has raged once again about Britain’s need for an independent nuclear deterrent ​and the multi-billion-pound cost involved.

Feelings have run high on both sides of the argument as to whether Britain needs a nuclear option that would surely lead to “mutually assured destruction” if it was ever used.

One prominent Lancashire MP – Fleetwood’s Cat Smith, a staunch ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – voted to abstain.

Cat Smith

The shadow youth affairs minister described the vote as a “ludicrous exercise”.

She may have a point – a vote to extend the Trident programme beyond 2020 was approved years ago.

Now Trident has been given a strong vote of confidence by MPs – including 140 Labour MPs who backed renewing the deterrent.

The decisive result was returned in support of a Government motion which also included supporting the plan to replace the existing submarine fleet carrying the missiles with four new Successor submarines.

Cat Smith

Renewal of the continuous-at-sea deterrent is predicted to cost £31 billion, with a £10 billion contingency fund also set aside.

Since 1969 a British submarine carrying nuclear weapons has always been on patrol, gliding silently beneath the waves, somewhere in the world’s oceans.

The replacement programme will support thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs at Barrow-in-Furness and elsewhere.

Labour MPs were subject to a free vote, with leader Mr Corbyn declaring he would oppose the motion – a stance which led to strong criticism from some of his backbenchers. Theresa May, in her first despatch box appearance as Prime Minister, warned it would be a “reckless gamble” for the UK to rely on other nations for its nuclear deterrent.

But Fleetwood MP Cat Smith has described the Parliamentary vote on the renewal of nuclear weapons systems as a “ludicrous exercise”.

Ms ​Smith said: “There was nothing new in this seven-hour debate – a vote in principle was already agreed in 2007 – and nothing whatsoever will happen as a result.

“It doesn’t authorise any new funding, or establish any new mechanisms for the delivery or oversight of the programme.

“We are in the bizarre situation where the government is asking parliament to approve the new submarine programme, but refusing to disclose the total costs of that programme.

“It is being held simply as an attempt to sow further divisions inside the Labour Party.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, who voted in favour, said: “There is no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety and security of the British people and I strongly supported the case for replacing the UK’s four Trident submarines.

“It is impossible to say what will happen in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life and it would be a gross negligence to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding our ultimate insurance against those risks.

“The fact that renewal received such strong cross-party support in the House of Commons shows how seriously Parliament views this issue.

“We cannot compromise on our national security and we cannot rely on others to keep our people safe. To abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism would be a reckless gamble: a gamble I was not prepared to take.”

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, also voted in favour.

He said: “The first duty of any government is the safety and security of its citizens. By starting the process of building four new submarines which will have a nuclear launch capability we will provide that safety and security for everyone who lives in the United Kingdom and those of the wider NATO family.

“Having a constant at sea nuclear deterrence, I believe has kept major war at bay. In a world that continues to be unpredictable, with rouge states racing to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction, it is in our interest to take out a safety insurance policy which will continue well into the 2070s.

“It is interesting to note that even the majority of Labour MPs support this move, as it really is in our national interest, providing protection to our citizens, and allowing us all to sleep safer at night. We simply cannot gamble with our future, and outsourcing our responsibility in this matter is reckless.”

Further afield in Lancashire, Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris voted in favour of renewal, while Westmorland and Lonsdale MP and leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron voted against.

Mr Morris said Trident is “vital for our national security” as well as jobs in the nuclear and defence sector.

Preston-born Mr Farron said Lib Dem policy was to retain a submarine-based nuclear deterrent, but not to have a like-for-like replacement of the current system.

David Morris said: “I voted for the renewal of Trident. Not only is trident vital for our national security it is vital for those constituents who work in the defence and nuclear sector across the North West and the supply chain that goes with it.

“In my view we cannot compromise on national security and it is impossible to say for certain that no extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life. It would be a gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future.”

Mr Farron said: “The Lib Dems are proposing an alternative to the government’s policy of like-for-like replacement of Trident.

“Under our plans, Britain would not unilaterally disarm, so would still use submarines manufactured in Barrow.”

Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle, who as deputy speaker does not vote, said: “In an ideal world we would not have nuclear weapons but there are genuine threats emerging from rogue states who are developing nuclear weapons and from old adversaries who have always had them. I believe that it is essential that the UK retains a nuclear deterrent to counter any such aggression.”

Mr Corbyn said last year during a visit to Lancashire that if Trident was wound up, he would want to find work for all the skilled staff affected.

How your mp voted

Cat Smith (Fleetwood)
- abstained

Ben Wallace (Wyre)
- for

Mark Menzies (Fylde)
- for

Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South)
- did not vote

Paul Maynard
(Blackpool North & Cleveleys)

- for