David Cameron has pledged to retain Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent after the Scottish National Party declared it would only prop up a Labour government if Ed Miliband promises not to replace Trident. The Prime Minister made the announcement on Thursday in order to put pressure on Labour.
Replacing the vessels carrying the Trident missiles – four Vanguard-class submarines – is expected to cost £20 billion pounds with a final decision on the renewal due in 2016. Opponents argue replacing Trident could cost as much as £100 billion pounds and Britain should consider cheaper alternatives.
Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, told the Times newspaper: “The Conservative manifesto will guarantee that we will build a new fleet of four Successor ballistic missile submarines… We will retain the Trident continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our safety.”
The Conservatives have long supported renewing Trident, and the Labour leadership also says it is committed to the system. However, Labour has suggested only having three submarines rather than four. The party is also under pressure by a large number of parliamentary candidates who oppose Trident.
A survey of Labour candidates standing at the general election suggested two-thirds of them did not want to replace Trident. At the time Kate Hudson, general secretary of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said the survey showed “Labour candidates are far more in-step with public opinion on this issue than the party’s leadership”.
She added: “The majority of the British public agree that squandering £100 billion on nuclear weapons at a time of deep austerity cuts and NHS crisis would be both morally reprehensible and economically disastrous — and it’s high time the Labour leadership caught up.”
The issue is likely to become significant because neither Labour or the Conservatives are predicted to win the election. Ed Miliband is likely to need the SNP in order to prop up his government, but they are opposed to Trident.
On Wednesday the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party would “never ever, ever” vote for a renewal of the Trident programme, potentially complicating post-election government-forming negotiations.
Labour defence spokesman Vernon Coaker said in a statement: “Labour is committed to maintaining a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous-at-sea deterrent… This is not up for negotiation with any party.”
The Trident base is located at Faslane, 25-miles from Glasgow. The SNP has a stated aim of shutting the site.