Independent – 14 June 2005
Does Labour intend to replace the strategic nuclear deterrent when Trident comes to the end of its life? This is the question I and other Conservative MPs are repeatedly asking – so far, with little to show for it.
Defence Secretary John Reid claimed to have answered it in the House on 6 June by referring to Labour's general election manifesto "commitment to the retention of the independent nuclear deterrent". Yet this is open to two entirely different interpretations. One is that, by retaining the deterrent the Government means that it intends to acquire a new generation of it, to succeed Trident. The other is merely that Labour will not scrap the existing Trident force before the end of its planned life, but is giving no commitment to the principle of replacing it with any new system at all.
The Defence Secretary's most revealing remark was that "no decision on any replacement for Trident has been taken, either in principle or otherwise". This strongly suggests that the second interpretation is the correct one and that the Government may yet decide to leave the United Kingdom with no nuclear deterrent when Trident is finally phased out.
Fifteen years ago, you kindly published letters which I had drafted, challenging Labour to say whether or not they believed that Britain should continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them. The time has come, once again, to persist in posing that question until we get an unambiguous answer.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Shadow Defence Minister
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA