Thornberry demands answers over Tories’ Trident boats plan

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Emily Thornberry has demanded the Government provide answers to a series of questions over the replacement of Trident submarines.

The shadow Defence Secretary today criticised the Tories over their failure to provide information on the multi-billion pound cost of the scheme and also highlighted ministers’ “disturbing silence” over the longer-term pursuit of multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Thornberry, who is leading Labour’s defence policy review, today called on the Government to come forward with its case for the Successor programme which is due to replace the current Vanguard class of nuclear submarines.

She used a speech at the Royal United Services Institute to ask if Michael Fallon had “made a convincing case” for the Successor programme.

“What is the current operational requirement? What uses will it have, and what challenges might it face, in the future operational environment?

 “What is the total cost of bringing it into operation? Are there more cost-effective alternatives?; and

 “Always most important, do the benefits outweigh the costs? To my mind, none of these questions have been fully answered. And if not, how can we determine whether the case has been made?”

Successor is the British programme to replace the four Vanguard submarines which have provided a continuous at-sea deterrent since 1992. The four planned new submarines will be built in Britain and the Government said they will be introduced from the 2030s onwards with a lifespan of at least 30 years.

With Fallon and David Cameron expected to put off a vote on the renewal of Trident until the autumn, Thornberry also sought to raise the pressure on ministers over their commitment to ultimately ensuring a world free of nuclear weapons.

Thornberry – who was appointed by unilateralist Jeremy Corbyn in the last Labour reshuffle – also drew on Labour’s history of campaigning for disarmament.

“There is another issue on which there is an equally disturbing silence. In the past when major decisions have been made on the future of Britain’s nuclear capability, they have gone hand-in-hand with strong commitments to eventual multilateral nuclear disarmament.

“Indeed, Labour’s original decision to renew Trident in 2007 was accompanied by the following statements from then Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett: ‘If we allow our efforts on disarmament to slack…the nuclear shadow that hangs over us will lengthen and it will deepen…so my commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons is undimmed.’

“Go back further to 1957, and the Labour conference in Brighton when Nye Bevan made his impassioned speech on the retention of the deterrent. One line from that speech is best-remembered, but it is worth recalling what preceded it.

“Bevan said: ‘It is not a question of who is in favour of the bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind.’ That was the basis of his plea that no British foreign secretary should be sent naked into the conference chamber to negotiate disarmament.

“Six decades on, what would Bevan make of the fact that the bombs are still with us, now in more countries than ever, but that the conference chamber he talked about lies silent and empty?”

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