'LIB DEMS DEFY TORIES WITH CALL TO REPLACE TRIDENT ON THE CHEAP'
Danny Alexander says Britain should 'move on from Cold War postures of the past'
By Jason Groves
Mail Online – 30 June 2013
Britain could get by with a cut-price nuclear deterrent and ‘move on from the Cold War postures of the past’, a senior Liberal Democrat said yesterday. Opening up a fresh Coalition rift, the Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander said a Government review had identified ‘alternatives’ to a full like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent. The review, which will be published next month, was ordered because of a Coalition split over the £20 billion cost of replacing Trident.
It is expected to conclude that there is no serious alternative to the submarine-based Trident system if Britain wants to maintain a continuous deterrent safe from enemy attack. But Mr Alexander’s comments suggest it could leave the door open to the question of whether it is time to reconsider if Britain could get by with a lesser deterrent in a post-Cold War era. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show:
‘While the review doesn’t come to any conclusions, I think when we publish the results in a few weeks’ time people will see that there are choices available to this country. There are alternatives where we can - as President Obama said in Berlin last week – move on from the Cold War postures of the past and try and set out a new future for this country with a deterrent that is credible, but where this country can play a role in supporting disarmament in future.’
Trident relies on four Vanguard submarines to provide the continuous at-sea deterrent that has protected Britain for decades. A cheaper system involving just two submarines would not be enough to keep the deterrent at sea at all times – meaning Britain would have periods of vulnerability.
Tory MP Julian Lewis said Mr Alexander’s comments suggested the Lib Dems would now push for a cut-down deterrent that would put Britain at risk in future decades. Mr Lewis said:
‘It is the height of irresponsibility to say that because the Cold War is over we can now move to a part-time deterrent. The next generation of the nuclear deterrent will have to last us from 2030 to 2060. No-one can possibly know what sort of threat from what sort of state will arise over the next half-century.’
The review, which will be published next month, was ordered because of a Coalition split over the £20 billion cost of replacing Trident. David Cameron has already indicated he wants a like-for-like replacement of Trident, saying in April:
‘We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British government embarked on it over six decades ago. Of course the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But the nuclear threat has not gone away.’
John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow, where Britain’s submarines are built, said:
‘After wasting taxpayers’ money on a review that has shot their preferred Trident alternative to pieces, few will take the Liberal Democrats seriously if they claim Britain could make do with a part-time deterrent that is not operational round the clock. ‘Ending Britain’s commitment to continuous at-sea deterrence - having at least one submarine carrying the deterrent operational at all times - would save relatively little money and make the UK much more vulnerable in the event of a nuclear threat in future decades.’