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 371.

    354. is your hatred of the USA so intent that you'll glorify any individual whose actions put US citizens at risk?
    Here are some reasons to not trust the USA:
    - Gary Mckinnon's bogus charges for hacking.
    - The fact that they cooperated with UK authorities in snooping.
    - WMD? Iraq? Where? It was an excuse for war.
    - US politicians with business links to the Carlyle Group.

    This is just a taste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Keep as we are with regards to our nuclear deterrent I say and to hell with the Lib Dems..

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    351. Cowardly Lion

    Sixp - may I remind you of the Argentine attack on the Falklands in 1982 and how some of our NATO allies performed?


    I think this says more about the international view of our role in the South Atlantic rather than NATO policy on nuclear attack on member states.

    Also, you argument justifies all nations developing their own nuclear arsenal does it not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    331. spam spam spam spam
    Britain largely alone....apart from India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, East and West Africans....

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    There is no reason to keep Trident, let alone replace it.
    Nuclear deterrence belongs to a different era, and our puny "deterrent" would hardly stop a rogue State intent on carnage.

    Just enter into an Agreement or Treaty with the USA (if one is actually needed).

    If we killed this off now, we could save billions on the lunacy of this saga before any was spent on building a replacement

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    "Mr Alexander said £4bn would be saved in the medium to long term"

    'Look how much I saved by buying all this stuff I didn't need - or want - in the sales!' Yeah, ok.

    Ok, so we accept that most of the money spent on weapons goes in profit to the mftrs - so, whose on the boards of those firms then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    The Lib Dems are useless idiots, lost and out of their depth (pardon the pun). The history of the British Empire is murdering, raping, and pillaging all and sundry across the world. Now we have handed this baton to the US, whilst remaining military allies. Drop our guard now and it won't be long before some country or military organisation has a go - Argentina...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.


    " One of the reasons why we need a full replacement for Trident is to ensure that Arab and Islamic countries in the middle east understand the consequences of an actual or threatened nuclear attack on Israel."

    I think its more likely Israel will do the attacking

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    The money saved (£40billion) by not replacing it should be spent on education, the NHS and other public services.
    Ah... spend spend spend again.
    It would be better used to reduce the national debt. £40 billion is the cost of trident over 20 years. We spend more than that EVERY year on interest. What a waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    293.And YES - I dont have a television - thanks

    One of the most sexist comments I've seen on POV, and it's not even a gender debate, impressive. why is the man oof the house automatically the working one? Why is the wife, the "weak one"?

    God I hope you're not married.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    So a rogue state or even superpower decides to attck the UK with nuclear weapons. The article above says there are three warheads onboard, we retaliate and destroy three cities. Carnage possibly then continues on a worldwide stage. Did our three warheads matter, will anything matter? What is / was the point of it all. Get a grip, it's a waste of money! The lights are going out soon don't you know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Trident is a useless white elephant and the sooner it goes the better. Can we get much tougher on immigration and on all the troublemakers already here - that will actually get results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    So how do other countries do it? How do they manage to not get invaded or nuked even though they don't have this "deterrent"? What's their secret?

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.


    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?

    What if your guide told you there "may" be crocks in the lake. You would still be just as wary of jumping in. We can maintain the nuclear threat without the presence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    typical lib-dems no backbone on major issues
    they will sell the country short as they did the students

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    There are two reasons why the Conservatives want to write a blank cheque for a new Nuclear deterrent. They love cuddling up to the Americans, who we buy this kit from, and also because they believe having a nuclear deterrent keeps the UK on the UN Security Council. You can forget all the other chat about this, read the International relations journals and things will be abundantly clear

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Shame they can't reach Australia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    #345: "I think after the Snowden revelations I have more reason to trust Russia and China more than the USA."

    Huh? Isn't that the same as citing Burgess and MacLean as having been good reasons to trust the USSR during the cold war. Or, more likely, is your hatred of the USA so intent that you'll glorify any individual whose actions put US citizens at risk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    No need for us to have Trident - BUT the Conservatives still think the Cold War' is still going and we still have an Empire and the want to keep their American masters happy.
    Isn't the answer to join the French and have a joint nuclear force if we really want one? Then that wont happen as the Euroceptics would hate that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    30 September 1938 "peace for our time"

    That time we were lucky, in this day and age we do need back up, our own and not just from our allies!


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