A CONSERVATIVE government would consider getting out of the £3.5 billion aircraft carrier project on its first day in power, union leaders claimed yesterday.
Shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox was said to have revealed that he would investigate "break clauses", at a meeting with unions in parliament yesterday.
The carriers – due to be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – are to be built in four dockyards across the UK, including the Clyde.
Union leaders last night warned that if the carrier projects were pulled, the shipbuilding industry in the UK would be killed off.
John Dolan, from the GMB union, said: "This project is absolutely essential. It will support shipbuilding in the UK for the next eight to ten years. Without it, the industry will collapse.
"What we heard from Liam Fox was worse than we had expected. We knew that they would not guarantee the carriers, but we did not expect that they would actively seek out break clauses on day one of government."
In a statement released after yesterday's meeting, Dr Fox failed to mention the aircraft carriers.
He said: "We all agreed that with 92 per cent of Britain's trade arriving by sea, this is no time for Britain to become sea blind and I assured them that maritime security will be a major part of a future Conservative government's plans for a defence review.
"I also reiterated the Conservative Party's commitment to increasing our share of the global defence export market as a matter of government policy in order to create and safeguard jobs."
When pressed on the issue of aircraft carriers, a spokeswoman confirmed that only the replacement of Trident would be safeguarded under a Conservative government.
She said that the aircraft carriers would need to be part of a strategic defence review into the armed services as a whole, which may not be concluded until 18 months after the election.
She added that the reason they would ask about break clauses in the contracts is because the current government has refused to pass on any details about them.
Labour Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson, who organised the meeting between union leaders and Dr Fox and Mr Harvey, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the outcome.
"Basically, the message is that the carriers stay afloat with Labour but will be sunk by the Conservatives," he said.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has committed the current government to the project and yesterday Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey did the same.
Union leaders wanted assurances from the Lib Dems in case of a hung parliament.