Trident Submarine Renewal

HMS Vanguard returning to Faslane, Scotland Street

The first Commons outing for a new Prime Minister is normally a great occasion in its own right, but Theresa May’s debut, following the withdrawal of her final opponent in the Conservative leadership race the week before, was overshadowed by a spectacular outbreak of Labour infighting.

She was moving a motion to confirm plans for a multi-billion pound programme to replace the submarines which carry the UK’s Trident Missile nuclear deterrent – a move which underlined her personal commitment to Trident renewal which, she said, was essential to national security.

She was challenged by the SNP’s George Kerevan who asked if she, personally, would order a nuclear strike which would kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children. Her response was a blunt, unadorned ‘Yes’. A nuclear deterrent was pointless if a government was not willing to use it, she added.

She had open support from Labour backbenchers including John Woodcock, MP for the submarine-building seat of Barrow and Furness… ‘Whatever she is about to hear from our Front Benchers, it remains steadfastly Labour Party policy to renew the deterrent while other countries have the capacity to threaten the United Kingdom and many of my colleagues will do the right thing for the long-term security of our nation and vote to complete the programme that we ourselves started in Government.’

The Prime Minister answered with an approving quote from Labour’s manifesto, which said Britain must remain ‘committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent’.

The Green MP, Dr Caroline Lucas, said the UK’s nuclear weapons drove nuclear proliferation. Theresa May did not accept that at all – and she took a direct swipe at Dr Lucas. ‘Sadly, she and some Labour Members seem to be the first to defend the country’s enemies and the last to accept these capabilities when we need them.’

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, questioned the ‘ever-ballooning ‘ cost of Trident renewal – but for him the central issue was this ‘Do these weapons of mass destruction – for that is what they are – act as a deterrent to the threats we face and is that deterrent credible?’

Unlike the Prime Minister he was not prepared to press the nuclear button. ‘I would not take a decision that killed millions of innocent people. I do not believe that the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations.’

Mr Corbyn faced repeated challenges from his own MPs. Angela Smith noted he was ‘Fond of telling us all that the Party Conference is sovereign when it comes to Party policy. Last year the Party Conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent, so why are we not hearing a defence of the Government’s motion?’ Mr Corbyn retorted that Labour’s policy was under review, provoking more shouts from Labour MPs.

The bombardment continued. The former Defence Minister, Kevan Jones, compared Labour’s defence review to the mythical unicorn; people believed it existed but no-one had ever seen it. Former Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Toby Perkins, said the case for not replacing Trident had fallen apart. Former Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker, said Britain could not abandon its responsibilities as a senior member of NATO.

The SNP’s Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson, said the people of Scotland had repeatedly shown their opposition to Trident renewal – and he added ‘The Government have a democratic deficit in Scotland and, with today’s vote on Trident, it is going to get worse, not better.

It will be for the Scottish people to determine whether we are properly protected in Europe and better represented by a government that we actually elect. At this rate, that day is fast approaching.’