Britain’s nuclear deterrent seen as near-perfect issue to cover cracks on Europe
By Jim Pickard and Henry Mance
Financial Times – 15 June 2016
David Cameron is planning to spring a Commons vote on new Trident submarines next month as a part of his attempts to unify the Conservative party after the bruising EU referendum battle. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is seen as a near-perfect issue to cover European cracks: it commands wide consensus among Tory MPs but divides Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, from scores of his MPs. After months of stories about the Conservative rift over Europe, a Trident vote would switch the media spotlight back on to Labour’s internal divisions.
However, the timing of a vote on the four Successor submarines depends on the outcome of next week’s EU vote, and may be postponed until later in the year, people briefed on the government plans said. An Out vote would be more likely to scupper the plan, according to MPs familiar with the government’s thinking.
Delays in holding the parliamentary vote have already been criticised by the chair of the defence select committee, the Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who said there was “growing concern” that national security was being put behind political considerations.
MPs voted by a wide majority in 2007 to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, but a decision on how many submarines to order has been delayed since 2010. The government has opted against a single “main gate” funding decision, arguing that it hinders efforts to control costs and ensure value for money. During the past few weeks, the government whips have sounded out pro-Trident Labour MPs in an effort to ensure the vote would pass, even if some pro-Brexit Tories voted against the government. Although most Tories are in favour of nuclear weapons, whips fear that some Eurosceptics will seek to damage the government over an array of issues in the event of an In vote in the EU referendum. […]