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David Cameron accused of playing with politics by the Labour Party and incurring extra spending to appease Liberal Democrats

By Nicholas Watt, Chief Political Correspondent

Guardian – 8 November 2010

A four-year delay to the replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent will cost up to £1.4bn, prompting claims tonight that David Cameron is incurring extra spending to appease the Liberal Democrats. Labour accused the Prime Minister of playing politics with Britain's national security after the Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that the government's decision to prolong the life of the current Trident deterrent by four years would cost an extra £1.2–£1.4bn.

Cameron announced in last month's strategic defence and security review that the current generation of four Vanguard submarines, which carry the Trident nuclear deterrent, would continue in service until 2028. This means the new deterrent would come into force four years later than the planned date of 2024.

The decision allowed the Prime Minister to stabilise relations in the coalition by delaying the irreversible ‘main gate’ decision on Trident, when binding contracts are signed, until a year after the 2015 General Election. Lib-Dem ministers, who are opposed to a like-for-like replacement for Trident, say the delay will allow them to fight the next election on an anti-Trident platform while remaining in office.

The government, which said in its defence review last month that the Trident delay would require "sufficient investment", today put a price on maintaining the Vanguard submarines for an extra four years. The oldest of the four submarines, which was due to be taken out of service in 2024, will now be taken out of service in 2028.

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, told MPs:

"There will be additional costs to maintaining the Vanguard class through to 2028. We expect that to be around £1.2 to £1.4bn extra to maintain those submarines for longer."

Fox said it was impossible to say whether the delay would end up adding to the overall costs of replacing Trident because these will not be agreed until after the "main gate" decision in 2016. "As no cost will actually be set out until after 'main gate' it is impossible to make that assumption," Fox said of Labour claims that the delay would end up costing more.

John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow where Britain's nuclear submarines are built, said the extra £1.4bn was the price of keeping Lib Dems on board.

"David Cameron has tried to claim that delaying Trident saves money, but his defence secretary has lifted the lid on how much playing politics with Britain's national security will cost the taxpayer,"

he said after the Commons exchanges.

Tory MPs made clear their unease about the Trident delay. Julian Lewis, the former Shadow Defence Minister, said to Fox:

"Does he not recognise that the appalling decision to postpone signing the 'main gate' contracts leads us to a situation where if, Heaven forbid, there is another hung parliament the Liberal Democrats, who are really unilateralist, would be able to blackmail both parties to cancel the deterrent entirely?"

Fox, who is a wary supporter of the coalition, said he hoped the Tories would be able to govern without the Lib Dems after the next election.

"I shall be fighting the general election to see a majority Conservative government returned."