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Trident debate: Theresa May says threat from Russia and North Korea 'very real'

Published 18/07/2016

Theresa May has launched a veiled attack on Jeremy Corbyn as she led moves to renew the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.

The Prime Minister said some members of the Labour frontbench appeared to be the first to "defend the country's enemies" and the last to accept what the UK needs to protect itself.

Mrs May also told the Commons she was sure many Labour MPs, who will have a free vote on the motion tabled, would join the Government in voting to replace the submarine fleet which carries the Trident missiles.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn and key allies, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, are set to vote against the motion.

Speaking in the Commons, Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) told Mrs May: "If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our national security and our safety then do you accept that the logic of that position must be that every other single country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons?

"And do you really think that the world will be a safer place if it did? Our nuclear weapons are driving proliferation - not the opposite."

Mrs May replied: "No, no I don't accept that at all.

"I have to say to you that sadly you and some members of the Labour Party seem to be the first to defend the country's enemies and the last to actually accept the capabilities that we need."

David Cameron entered the Commons chamber and took his seat on the fourth row shortly before Mrs May made her first speech at the despatch box since succeeding him as Prime Minister.

Opening her remarks, Mrs May said the motion would allow the UK to "get on with the job of renewing an essential part of our national security for generations to come".

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

She went on: "The threats we face are serious and it is vital for our national interest that we have the full spectrum of our defences at full strength to meet them.

"That is why, under my leadership, this Government will continue to meet our Nato obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence, we will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe and we will continue to invest in all the capabilities set out in the strategic defence and security review last year."

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Tory former minister Andrew Selous said Ukraine would have been "less likely to have lost a sizeable portion of its territory to Russia" had it continued to keep its nuclear weapons, adding there were lessons for the UK in this situation.

Mrs May replied: "You are absolutely right, there are lessons.

"Some people suggest to us that we should actually be removing our nuclear deterrent. This has been a vital part of our national security and defence for nearly half a century now and it'd be quite wrong for us to go down that particular path."

Labour MP John Woodcock, whose Barrow and Furness constituency is where the existing submarines were built, told Mrs May: "Will you be reassured that whatever you're about to hear from our front bench, it remains steadfastly Labour Party policy to renew the deterrent while other countries have the capacity to threaten the United Kingdom?

"And many of my colleagues will do the right thing for the long-term security of our nation and vote to complete the programme that we ourselves started in government."

Mrs May said Mr Woodcock was "absolutely right", adding: "The national interest is clear."

She also read out a section from the Labour Party's 2015 general election manifesto which committed it to support a "minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability" delivered by a continuous at-sea deterrent.

Mrs May welcomed the commitment offered by Mr Woodcock and many of his colleagues.

Mrs May insisted that threats to the UK from countries such as Russia and North Korea "remain very real" while also warning about the possibility of future threats.

She said: "We must continually convince any potential aggressors that the benefits of an attack on Britain are far outweighed by their consequences and we cannot afford to relax our guard or rule out further shifts which would put our country in grave danger.

"We need to be prepared to deter threats to our lives and our livelihoods and those of generations who are yet to be born."

SNP MP Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) said that 58 of Scotland's 59 MPs will be voting against renewal.

He asked what message it would send to the people of Scotland who were demonstrating through their elected representatives "we don't want Trident on our soil" if MPs backed the motion for renewal.

Mrs May replied: "I have to say to you that that means that 58 of the 59 Scottish members of Parliament will be voting against jobs in Scotland which are supported by the nuclear deterrent."

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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."

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