If David Cameron survives the result of the EU referendum, he may try to rush Parliament into a vote on Trident renewal in July. What is at stake for Britain’s security?
The decisions on Trident renewal and EU membership will have transformative consequences not just for Britain, but for our region and probably the rest of the world. Some of these consequences will profoundly affect our security.
If David Cameron survives the EU referendum as Prime Minister, parliamentary insiders are speculating that he may rush Parliament into taking the so-called ‘main gate’ vote on Trident in July. This would authorise the government to sign contracts worth up to £41 billion and start building the “successor” nuclear submarines for Trident to be deployed beyond 2050. This price tag is double what MPs were told when they first voted on Trident replacement in 2007 as part of a double-sided motion which didn’t just decide to replace Trident, but also committed to taking “further steps towards meeting the UK’s disarmament responsibilities under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty”.
Linking Trident replacement to further disarmament steps was Tony Blair’s way of salving his conscience and distracting from what nuclear modernisation for a further 40 years actually means. Like calling Trident “our independent deterrent” or the naming of a US nuclear-armed MX missile “peacekeeper”. To buy off Labour sceptics, Blair and his Defence Secretary Des Browne promised parliament a further say before signing the huge construction contracts.
The speculation about a July vote may be a bit of kite flying by the Conservatives. Cameron is apparently looking for something that will serve to throw Labour into disarray and distract from the Conservative Party’s deep divisions over the EU referendum, whatever the outcome. He will have the long-awaited publication of the Chilcot report in early July, but as a Blair-adoring Tory Cameron was on the wrong side of history. Inconveniently for the Prime Minister, the arguments and concerns raised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the millions of opponents to the Iraq war at the time were the rightones, as evidenced by the ongoing tragedies and security threats that are recognised now as the legacy of the Bush-Cheney-Blair “war of choice”.
Corbyn is also right to oppose Trident replacement. Forcing Parliament to vote on this a few months before Labour’s defence policy review has been concluded would not deliver a debate or outcome in Britain’s best interests. Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry and her team are still in the process of reviewing British security and defence, including Trident, with a view to debating these important issues at the Labour Party Conference in late September. No vote should be scheduled before then.
If David Cameron does try to railroad such an important financial and security decision through before Labour’s review process has been concluded, it could backfire for him. Instead of dividing in disarray Labour could put in a delaying amendment that the entire party – and many other MPs – could unite behind.
There are other critical strategic and financial reasons why Cameron should not rush ahead to sign the big “steel-cutting” contracts with BAE Systems.
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