SHADOW home secretary Andy Burnham warned that Labour rifts on Trident may prove irreconcilable yesterday as a debate among the party’s frontbench on retaining the nuclear weapons system at Faslane on the Clyde was shelved.
Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet had been expected to discuss proposals for the future of Trident at its weekly meeting at Westminster, only for the debate to be postponed at the last minute.
We’re a broad church of a party and we should let the review run through. I made a commitment to vote against renewal and that’s not changedIan Murray MP
The move comes after shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry – who, like Mr Corbyn, supports unilateral nuclear disarmament – was challenged by supporters of the system when she briefed Labour MPs and peers on her stance.
Labour’s policy at UK level is still officially in favour of reviewing Trident, but Mr Corbyn is committed to opposing the weapons system in a House of Commons vote expected on the issue later this year. Scottish Labour’s conference at Perth last year voted to oppose renewal of the system.
Mr Burnham, who backs Trident renewal, said that the hostile reception Ms Thornberry faced from some MPs underlined how difficult it was going to be for the party to come to an agreed position on the issue.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “There are two positions here which are difficult to reconcile - maybe impossible to reconcile - and the party has got to find some way of accommodating those positions and move forward and don’t let this issue take over everything.”
However, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the debate was being made to “appear more tribal than it is” as he restated his own opposition to the renewal of Trident.
The Edinburgh South MP also said that it was “quite important” that the vote by Scottish Labour conference against retaining Trident fed into the review of the UK’s party’s stance on the issue.
Mr Murray said: “We’re a broad church of a party and we should let the review run through. I made a commitment to vote against renewal and that’s not changed. The country is split 50-50 on Trident, so there’s no reason why the party can’t have a debate.
But Labour’s review of Trident was attacked as “total indulgence” by Gary Smith, acting secretary of the pro-Trident GMB union Scotland, which is to stage a conference this month aimed at safeguarding jobs linked to the system.