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 351.

    Sixp - may I remind you of the Argentine attack on the Falklands in 1982 and how some of our NATO allies performed? For example, Belgian ammunition for 105mm cannons. Spain siding with Argentina (because of Gibraltar). Reagan trying to make Thatcher back off. It is only if it is the interests of NATO to retaliate that it will do so, and I have no confidence they would.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Let's be honest and get down to the nitty-gritty.

    Question: Foreseeable threat?
    Answer: The French keeping their nukes and looking tougher than us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    332. piroflip

    The hated human rights act would have been scrapped ages ago if it were not for them tying the Tories hands behind their backs.


    Hated - really?

    Only by those who like to torture or imprison without trial surely?

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    3 Minutes ago
    We don't know what or where the next war will be,

    I feel certain that the President of the United States of America will let us know once they've decided. Unless we're the target - in which case...(well nothing because we won't be here to rant).

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Just because their is no immediate threat today does not mean there will not be one in 30 years time and I for one will not jeopardise my childrens or their childrens safety and security by getting rid of a proven deterrent, We probably send more money overseas than the cost of trident.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    @161. Couldn't agree more, & from what I've seen some of those non nuclear countries enjoy levels of prosperity & social services which surpass our own.

    Shows what can be done with the money saved by not having a WMD which can only be used in a suicide scenario.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    331. Just look at HYS ANYTIME, so many distrust USA, distrust the EU, & Russians & China & Islam.
    I think after the Snowden revelations I have more reason to trust Russia and China more than the USA. This process between the US and UK regarding secrecy was well put by JFK in 1961 when he made a statement to the effect that there is a secret government behind the visible one- he wasn't wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    331. spam spam spam spam

    Your understanding of World War 2, the period known as the "phoney war" and the events leading up to it is pretty woeful. I would suggest you read a source such as AJP Taylor's "The Origins of the Second World War" or John Keegan's "The Second World War" to correct this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    @301 "Of those terrorists the vast majority ardently believe that their personal destruction is martyrdom and a cause for celebration"

    The minions yes, but not the leaders....... They'll happily send out brainlwashed suicide bombers, but they wouldn't bring down a nuclear bomb on their own heads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    'An attack on a NATO member would result in a massive automatic response.'

    Are you serious ??? When did anyone ever get NATO to agree on anything. No ? Just look at Syria. (Um, er, well, er diplomatic talks etc etc etc) And do you honestly think the UN would allow it ? No chance...

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    So, if the pro nuclear lobby truly believe that the UK is logical when insisting that weapons are only a deterrent against regimes that wish to attack & destroy our way of life, then why is it against the law for citizens to also arm themselves as a deterrent just in case their own political regime becomes a threat? A perceived threat is a threat, is it not? I think that we all know the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    I am sure having just 2 boats will cost almost as much as having 4 so is this not more of a jesture to the disarmament lobby than a true cost saving measure. You either have a nuclear deterent that needs to be available 24/7 or you do not have a true deterent. Typical of the Libdems they do not have the courage to say there will be no UK deterent so they sit on the fence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    The construction costing billions of pounds will go straight back into the UK economy. Unlike many big contracts that go to offshore corporates such as seimens, boeing and Lockhead.

    Also build the grain island airport, HS2, Crossrail 2 and new nuclear.

    Better than paying jobseekers allowance Cleggy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Whatever the final decision it is probable from recent historical example that the UK will once again be dragged into a foreign conflict manufactured by the US for Israeli interests as was Iraq and potentially Iran might be. All you need is another Bush & Blair types an it's "High ho, high ho, it's off to war we go" that 'special relationship'. Having nukes should be a crime against humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Looking at the comments it's so obvious that none of you have ever read the book '1984'.
    And politicians worldwide are so glad that you havn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.


    I agree WITH your views. BUT why IS it necessary TO capitalise random words TO GET your point ACROSS?

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    The 20th Century is littered with examples of Politicians disarming their countries only to find themselves woefully underprepared for the next war. We don't know what or where the next war will be, we don't, and never have had a crystal ball. With the reduction of our conventional forces to the absolute minimum, Trident is still a huge bang for your buck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    It's a rather expensive deterrent which lets face it hasn't been needed in its entire lifespan, all that money, men and weaponry just in case, we didn't use it in the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone...

    Also as far as it goes compared to the US and Russias arsenal, one active sub is not enough to wage real nuclear war as the US, Russia and Chinas weapons are much more flexible

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t certainly know that, although you probably wouldn’t, there is no probability that you certainly would!,_Prime_Minister)

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    The none entity lib dems are loving the limelight.

    May god help us these ban the hetrosexual whites, PC idiots ever form a government.

    Crime will go through the roof as they bring out law after law to protect the criminal's rights.

    The hated human rights act would have been scrapped ages ago if it were not for them tying the Tories hands behind their backs.


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