LONDON (Reuters) – Lawmakers are expected to vote on Monday to renew Britain’s ageing nuclear weapons system, a multi-billion pound project regarded as key to maintaining the country’s status as a world power following the vote to leave the European Union.
Parliament, where the Conservatives have a majority of 16, is likely to approve renewing the Scottish-based nuclear-armed Trident submarines despite opposition from many lawmakers from the main opposition Labour Party and the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
Opponents say the vote is being used by the newly appointed Prime Minister Theresa May to unify her party after a bruising Brexit campaign and embarrass Labour by highlighting its own deep divisions.
In her first statement in parliament as prime minister, May will tell lawmakers that the nuclear threat is growing and urge them to put ideology aside and back renewal.
“It is impossible to say for certain that no extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life,” May will say, according to pre-released quotes issued by her office.
“We cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism.”
Parliament agreed in principle in 2007 to replace the deterrent system and Monday’s vote is to rubber stamp the decision to go ahead with approving the building of four submarines to ensure Britain can have nuclear weapons continuously at sea.
UK’S “OUTSIZED” ROLE
U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter said in February that Britain needed to renew the submarines, based at Faslane in Scotland, if it wanted to maintain its “outsized” role in world affairs.
However, many in Labour believe the weapons are no longer needed as they provided little use in defending against a threat from terrorists, and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been challenged by two candidates seeking to take the helm of the centre-left party, is one of those who is opposed as a long-standing anti-war campaigner, but he has said his lawmakers can vote freely on whether to back renewing Trident.
The party’s defence spokeswoman accused May of “playing games” with the issue and said she would abstain.
“Theresa May talks about it being reckless for us not to vote today. I think it is reckless to plough on ahead with the most expensive of all the various options,” lawmaker Emily Thornberry told BBC radio.
Some military officials also oppose the outlay on Trident, saying the money would be better spent on maintaining the army and on more conventional technology, both of which have recently suffered cutbacks.
The Ministry of Defence has said replacing the four submarines would cost 31 billion pounds, with a contingency of 10 billion pounds, with another 4 billion already allocated to the design process.
Defence firms BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock would all be likely to benefit from a renewal, with the new submarines expected to enter service in 2028 at the earliest.
However, in response to a freedom of information request from Reuters in March, the ministry said it could not provide any detail of the costs for the nuclear warheads, support services infrastructure and running costs over the system’s expected life.
Calculations by Reuters and a Conservative lawmaker suggest that it could reach 167 billion pounds over 32 years.
“Any other decision that the government would want to make on this, the single biggest investment that the government is going to make, you’d expect them to go into some details on cost,” Thornberry said.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Monday’s decision would allow Britain to get on with building the boats and give the supply chain confidence that the project would go ahead.