Lib Dems accuse Tories of trying to 'rubbish' Trident report


Lib Dem Danny Alexander: "It's fair to say that the two parties in government have very different approaches to this issue"

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The coalition parties are at odds after a Lib Dem-prompted government report set out options for replacing the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Lib Dems favour reducing the number of Vanguard submarines from four now to three, saying the existing system was designed for the Cold War era.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be "naive or reckless" not to have a like-for-like replacement.

But Lib Dem Danny Alexander accused him of trying to "rubbish the report".

A final decision on the issue is to be made in 2016, after the next election.

The UK has had a continuous-at-sea nuclear weapons system, with at least one submarine on patrol at any given time, for more than 40 years and has used the Trident system since the early 1990s.

While the government remains committed to Trident, the coalition partners agreed to undertake a review amid disagreements over future capability and cost.

The review makes no recommendations but set outs a range of options.

Its main findings are:

  • There are alternatives to the current posture which would enable the UK to inflict "significant damage" and deter aggressors
  • Submarines could potentially be operated at "reduced readiness" when threat levels are lower
  • A continuous-at-sea presence is the most "resilient" posture and guarantees the quickest response
  • Land and air-based delivery systems effectively ruled out
  • An entirely new system, using cruise rather than ballistic missiles, would be more expensive than renewing Trident
Trident graphic showing range of missiles, comparing size with 747 and explaining there are four submarines, one is at sea, one is undergoing maintenance and two are in port/training.

The UK's current four-submarine fleet will reach the end of its lifespan in the 2020s and one of the main arguments surrounds how many "successor" submarines - which take 17 years to build - should be commissioned.


The Trident Alternatives Review was never going to settle the debate about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

The review asked three key questions. The first two were: Are there credible alternatives to a submarine-based deterrent? Are there credible submarine-based alternatives to the current proposal - such as modifying the Astute submarines?

In both cases the answer appears to be no. Basing nuclear missile silos on land was never really a starter. Too controversial and too easy to target. And the review appears to conclude that modifying the Astute submarines to carry nuclear cruise missiles would be both more expensive and less effective.

The one hope for the Liberal Democrats is in the last question: Are there alternative nuclear postures, such as a non-continuous at-sea deterrent?

For the Conservatives the answer is still no. Philip Hammond says it would be like having a part time deterrent. He wants a like-for-like replacement.

But the Liberal Democrats argue you could save billions of pounds by having two submarines instead of four. There will be clear blue water between the two parties before the next election.

The report suggests four boats would be required to maintain a continuous-at-sea presence and a smaller fleet would risk "multiple unplanned breaks" in 24-hour patrolling and could affect the UK's ability to respond in crises.

It says the UK could still operate a nuclear weapons system with three or even two boats but that would depend on "political confidence" that there was no chance of an unexpected pre-emptive attack and more regular patrols could be reconstituted.

But Mr Hammond told the BBC that nuclear submarines were the "most complex man-made object on earth" and reducing the numbers available would leave the UK extremely "vulnerable".

"Just because we do not perceive an immediate threat today, does not mean there would not be a threat over the 60-year odd time horizon we are looking at," he said.

"The truth is, at the end of the day, we can have continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrents or we can have a part-time deterrent. The part-time deterrent will save us only trivial sums of money."

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander accused Mr Hammond of trying to "rubbish the report" and said his Conservatives colleagues "were worried about losing the argument".

'Nuclear ladder'

The UK's nuclear policy had "not moved on very much since the end of the Cold War", he said, and the review showed there were "credible alternatives" to the current arrangements.


  • 2007: MPs approve plans for renewal in Commons vote. "Concept phase" launched to assess future submarine designs and consider value for money of project
  • 2010: Defence review decides to delay final decision on renewal to 2016
  • 2011: "Initial Gate" procurement phase to begin. Some building materials and components of nuclear propulsion system to be purchased over five years
  • 2016: "Main Gate" decision due to be taken. Submarine design and missile component contracts to be finalised
  • 2028: First replacement submarine to be delivered

"We can move on by ending 24-hour patrols when we don't need them and buying fewer submarines," he said.

"That way we can move down the ladder of disarmament as a country without compromising our national security."

Critics have questioned whether the UK can continue to pay for Trident in its current form. The government estimates renewal costs will be between £15bn and £20bn but anti-nuclear campaigners say the figure will be much higher.

Mr Alexander said £4bn would be saved in the medium to long term from moving to three submarines but the Ministry of Defence says the current cost of operating the Trident fleet is about 5% of the annual £34bn defence budget.

'In denial'

Parliament will debate the findings of the report on Wednesday.

Labour said it remained committed to maintaining the "minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent" and it believed that was best delivered through a continuous-at-sea submarine presence.

"It would require a substantial body of evidence for us to change that but this review does not appear to offer such evidence," shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

The SNP, which has vowed to remove nuclear weapons from Scottish soil if it wins an independence referendum next year, said the review was "not worth the paper it is written on".

"The Westminster establishment seem to have forgotten that Trident is based in Scotland, and neither the people nor parliament of Scotland want it here," said its Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

"This review is in denial, and panders to the vanity of the Westminster system which wants to keep this out-dated, dangerous arsenal of nuclear weapons on the Clyde."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    The above statistics for the submarines whilst accurate as a maximum capacity has the minor issue that the missiles are stored in the USA and are maintained there as well which doesn't make for an effective deterrent as the subs go to sea with as little as one missile on board. It is not really independent if the weapon is not made at home so you can pick your own targets without interference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I cannot think of a scenario where the UK nuclear deterrent could be of any utility except as a bargaining chip to persuade more nations to give up theirs if we get rid of it. This being the case a couple of cruise missiles loaded with powdered radioactive medical waste would serve the purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Time for an analogy.....

    Your touring Austalia, you come accross a nice big lake and just fancy going for a swim, your guide tells you there are fresh water crocs in there, but you can't see them. Do you still jump into the lake?

    Trident is exactly the same thing, it's out there somewhere and our potential enemy nations know it. It's the unseen deterent and it's damn effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The govt. trying to pretend they need this for our protection. What we REALLY need is someone to protect us from the govt! Why not just declare martial law and drop any pretense that there is freedom of sppech in this country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Too much too little too late from the Quisling LibDems. However, if politicians stopped us trying to be America's lapdog, jumping at every chance of a foreign war, we wouldn't accrue so many potential enemies. Only France have nukes in the rest of Europe. Do we really need Trident, and in this time of austerity the Tories keep telling us about can we afford it? The answer is a resounding no!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    If ever a nuclear weapon was fired any where in the world, I would no longer wish to be part of the human race. Life would be come total misery all over the planet. Save the money involved and spend it on fixing global warming instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    93.Total Mass Retain
    "Tragic though Lee Rigby's murder was, if that's the best these nutjobs can do, the vast majority of us have not very much to worry about. Whereas 1900 of us get killed on the roads each year and around 700 murdered."

    Crass to say the least, have some respect, we don't want ANY nutjobs as you put it.
    Comparing a road death to beheading.
    Leave your stats at home TMR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    It is stunning that liberals, for all their good intentions, get an ear on these matters. Never in the entire history of the whole world has there ever been one single example of the peace-nik position being proven right in the medium-to-long term. Disband your nuclear submarines if you must, but make no mistake that it will end in tears.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    "Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be "naive or reckless" not to have a like-for-like replacement."


    Things have changed big time since the Cold War, we no longer need the same style of deterrent.

    Those defense lobbyists must have been working some serious overtime...

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Scotland has rejected Trident and its replacement. If the English want to keep Trident then base it on the Thames.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    #110 The reason we stopped using the RAF to deliver our nuclear deterent was that even 1960s anti-air missiles would have decimated the bombers & airfields are too easy to knock out (which was why we also developed Harriers). Cruise missiles are just little aircraft- very easy to shoot down. Also nuclear armed Cruise violates the START treaties of the 80s. Remember Greenham common protests etc?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The argument for keeping trident seems to boil down to the rules of the playground I need a big stick to threaten other people or they may get a stick to threaten me, maybe we should behave like adults not 7 year olds?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    What an excellent idea to incinerate millions of families.
    Don't talk to them, BURN them.
    Why did I not think of that?
    And not just those powerhungry leaders, butt also the ordinary man, women and children, petdog's and lazy cats.
    Eureka, best idea ever.

  • Comment number 118.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.


    "To those who claim Trident has worked as a nuclear detterent. Can you name a credible threat in the last 20+ years, where an organisation could have attcked us, wanted to attack us and didn't because of the nuclear detterent?"

    Daft question. If they hadn't, is it because the deterent worked & if it was do you really think they would tell us?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    stevio that analagy is so flawed I can only assume you're trolling or braindead

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    God help us if the hush puppy soldiers of the Lib Dems get their way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    It seems to me in order to encourage other courties to reduce(or not get in the first place) nuclear weapons we need to lead by example. If we can get away with 3 boats I would think this sensible (1 on patrol, 1 maintenance, 1 for training) but if they still need 4 then they should carry fewer missiles (that alone should cut costs due to the massive maintenance cost of the missiles).

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.


    Should we come under threat of nuclear war dont you think having this would be classed as 'helping' our own people from potential death?

    You would soon change your tune if we didnt have it and needed it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    @ 81 All members of the UN Security Council have nuclear weapons, Really? Togo, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan have nuclear weapons?

    If you meant all permanent members that's accurate but that wasn't the criteria of their appointment.


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