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Trident debate: MPs back renewal of UK's nuclear weapons programme

Published 18/07/2016

Theresa May has signalled her support for the UK's nuclear deterrent
Theresa May has signalled her support for the UK's nuclear deterrent

UK MPs have backed the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons programme, voting 472 to 117 in favour in House of Commons

The decisive result was returned in support of a Government motion which also included backing the plan to replace the existing submarine fleet carrying the missiles with four new Successor submarines.

Renewal of the continuous-at-sea deterrent is predicted to cost £31 billion, with a £10 billion contingency fund also set aside.

Labour MPs were subject to a free vote, with leader Jeremy Corbyn declaring he would oppose the motion - a stance which led to strong criticism from some of his backbenchers.

The SNP, the third largest party in the Commons with 54 MPs, also opposed the Government's plan.

Earlier Theresa May declared without hesitation that she would order a nuclear strike to kill hundreds of thousands of people if she thought it was necessary.

The Prime Minister gave the blunt reply during a parliamentary debate on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons programme, which many suspect was staged by the government for the sole purpose of drawing attention to the rift between Jeremy Corbyn and a majority of Labour MPs.

Ms May was challenged by the SNP’s George Kerevan, who asked: "Are you prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?”

Ms May replied with one word: “Yes.”

She also told MPs that it would be "an act of gross irresponsibility" for the UK to scrap its nuclear weapons and accused opponents of the UK’s Trident missile system of being "the first to defend the country's enemies".

Theresa May has signalled her support for the UK's nuclear deterrent
Theresa May has signalled her support for the UK's nuclear deterrent

Previous prime ministers have avoided answering the hypothetical question of whether they would ever press the nuclear button. Sir Geoffrey Howe, who was Foreign Secretary in the closing years of the cold war, said it was a question no prime minister should ever answer directly.

But Ms May knew that the Labour leader was prepared to state his position, which is the opposite of hers. Without being asked, Jeremy Corbyn volunteered the statement that “I’m not making the decision that kills millions of innocent people.”

He added: “I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about international relations.”

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The decision to stage Monday's vote was made by David Cameron, who sat three rows back saying nothing while his successor addressed the Commons.

Officially, Parliament was being asked to agree to spend up to around £30 billion renewing the four Trident submarines that are equipped with nuclear missiles and warheads. Every hour of the day or night, there is always one submarine patrolling the sea.

Trident was originally bought from the USA by Margaret Thatcher as a last ditch defence in case the armies of the former Warsaw Pact, which was disbanded in 1989, overran Europe.

Since 1989, it has been the official policy of the Labour Party to support the retention  of Trident, to which Jeremy Corbyn, as a back bench MP, was consistently opposed.

He announced that he would vote against Trident again, but as he spoke, he was constantly interrupted by Labour MPs who demanded that he should defend the party’s policy instead of giving his own opinion. His response was that there is a review of Labour defence policy being carried out by the newly appointed Shadow Defence Secretary, Clive Lewis.


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Northern Ireland MPs


During Monday's debate on Trident, DUP MP Ian Paisley gave support towards the renewal of the Government’s nuclear weapons programme.

Speaking in Parliament today on Trident Ian Paisley said: "Could I congratulate the Prime Minister for her sure footedness today on bringing this motion before the House and at last allowing Parliament, in this session to make a decision.

"We will proudly stand behind the government on this issue tonight."

He further added, “Could I encourage her to encourage the Scottish Nationalists, that if they don’t want Trident jobs in Scotland, they will be happily taken in Northern Ireland."


SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie spoke against renewal of Trident.

She said: "The renewal of Trident is about status, not security. The elephant in the room today is that Trident only exists to further the image of the UK as a first-tier world power, not to make citizens safer.

"Leaving aside the party political timing of the vote today, the Government’s commitment to nuclear weapons betrays a deep insecurity over the UK’s role in the 21st century.

"The Motion tonight shows that the new Prime Minister is not committed to even multi-lateral nuclear disarmament. I fear renewing Trident will make the world less secure by increasing tensions and by increasing the risk of potentially catastrophic mechanical and human error.

"Trident also puts Northern Ireland at greater risk by making both the North and the Irish Sea potential targets in future conflicts. That is why I and the other SDLP MPs will be voting against renewal this evening."


Danny Kinahan, Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim, reiterated that the renewal of the UK's nuclear deterrent is essential.

South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan said: "Members of Parliament have been asked once again to decide how best to defend our nation and the role we play in avoiding the total warfare we saw in the last century. My colleague Tom Elliott MP and I will vote this evening to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme. This is a decision that the Ulster Unionist Party has never taken lightly and one that we have always been confident in making.

"Tom and I both served our country in the Armed Forces and know what it is like to be on the ground during conflict. I strongly believe that our nuclear deterrent has and will continue to prevent many conflicts that would place our service personnel in mortal danger. Those who oppose our nuclear capabilities often argue against their cost as if they were a luxury that we could do without. They are not a luxury, they safeguard our nation and ensure that we play our part as a leading global peacekeeper. As our former Prime Minister indicated in 2013, Trident costs us less than 1.5% per cent of our annual benefits bill.

"As we are all acutely aware, Northern Ireland has a proud and long standing tradition of service in the Armed Forces. If the Scottish Government does not want to keep the weapons at HM Naval Base, Clyde then I’m sure we will be more than happy to house the Trident programme and all of the thousands of jobs that go with it in our province."

Independent News Service

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