This week the House of Commons voted by 472 votes to 117 to proceed with the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system at an estimated cost of £31 billion – or about 20p in every £100 of government expenditure over the life of the programme. Most Labour MPs (in a free vote) supported the Government motion – in line with their party’s longstanding policy and all but one Conservative MP did the same. The Leader of the Opposition bizarrely argued against most of his own MPs’ views and voted against the policy. For a party aspiring to be a government in waiting, it was a pretty shambolic display. How can you really not have a settled policy on a matter of such national significance as protecting each and every one of our country’s citizens?
You can’t really have a deterrent weapons system if you say from the outset, you’d never use it in any circumstances. In that case, it isn’t a deterrent!
Scottish National MPs also played to the gallery, on the basis that they’ll never be in power in the UK to make these life or death decisions and it’s easier – as is usual with them – to parade their anti-English grievances, despite the fact that many Scottish people approve of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent and it supports hundreds of jobs in the west of Scotland.
Parliament needed to make this key decision - which happens also to be supported by a majority of the public, according to opinion polls.
Of course, my vote for Trident renewal was far from an easy decision: The capacity to inflict mass death and carnage is awesome and terrible, as these are weapons of mass destruction which we all hope will never be deployed. But you can’t “uninvent” nuclear weaponry and the truth is that although its cost is huge, possession of nuclear weapons arguably prevented the Cold War exploding into armed conflict from the 1950s through to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and even today, our independent continuous at sea Vanguard submarines guarantees the UK’s autonomy, integrity and security. The Government’s policy is to retain the nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our safety and build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines - securing thousands of highly-skilled engineering jobs in the UK.
Despite successes over recent decades in limiting the number of states with nuclear capabilities, we cannot rule out a major shift in the international security situation which would put us under grave threat. That is why I do not believe it would be right to give up this capability unilaterally. Unilateralism is superficially attractive but it would be wrong to leave Britain open to nuclear blackmail.
The nuclear deterrent protects all of Britain, and scrapping it would dangerously weaken our collective defence. Possession of these weapons actually improves our strength and bargaining power in limiting the proliferation of new weapons and the case for coordinated multilateral disarmament. Would we want to give up these missiles whilst North Korea and Iran gained new ones and Russia increased its arsenal?
I’d rather the atom had never been split but I feel my vote will have helped the UK remain safer in a dangerous and changing world.
What price peace and stability?