THE Liberal Democrats have backed a scaled down version of Trident as the party conference voted in favour of ending the UK’s continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrence and instead adopting a “contingency posture”.
Lib Dem members also rejected a move to commit the party to completely scrapping Trident nuclear submarines at Faslane in what was another victory for the party leadership at the conference in Glasgow.
The move came just a day after the conference rejected an motion that called on Nick Clegg to do more to distance the Lib Dems from the Conservatives.
Chief Treasury Minister Danny Alexander, speaking during the defence debate, insisted that the Trident plan represented one of the “most signficant acts of disarmament” in global history.
Mr Alexander said that the move to “scale back” Trident was more realistic and workable than the complete abolition of nuclear weapons as he defended the leadership’s stance on the issue.
He said: “It’s a change that’s taken seriously within the United States. It’s a major step down the ladder of disarmament.
“One of the great merits of the policy position is that it is achievable and deliverable.
“Let’s not sit in a position of purity when we can make a differance.”
The call to completely scrap Trident was backed by a number of party members at the conference, although no MPs or MSPs spoke in favour of the move.
An amendment in favour of ending the nuclear deterrant was defeated by a a margin of 322 to 228 in a comfortable victory for the party leadership.
The policy to scale down Trident, that the party said would involve a “contingency posture” on nulcear weapons, was overwhelmingly supported by the conference.
Lib Dem MP Sir Nick Harvey rejected suggestions that the party now backed a “part-time deterrent” by scaling back nuclear submarine use and sea patrols.
Sir Nick said that the party’s Trident plans would mean that the UK would “retain the capability to put back together” any scaled down deterrent in a matter of days.
The former minister said that the proposals were the “boldest and most radical suggestion” to come from a nuclear nation.
He said: “We’ve continued to sail the high seas 24/7 waving nuclear weapons at noone in particular.
“We do not have a nuclear adversary, but cannot say that will always be the case.” We’d keep the missiles the warheads and submarines and higly skilled crews.”
However, Sir Nick insisted that the Lib Dems plans meant missiles would no longer be directly deployed and would “point the route to the nuclear exit door”.