Labour leadership race: Trident splits party

Labour leadership contender backed Trident at the RUSI event. Picture: Getty

Labour leadership contender backed Trident at the RUSI event. Picture: Getty

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LABOUR leadership candidate Andy Burnham has said he would resign from the shadow cabinet if asked to oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

His comment sets the scene for a potential early split in the party if the race to succeed Ed Miliband is won by front-runner Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to scrap Trident, which is based at Faslane on the Clyde.

In a speech in London committing himself to an “internationalist” stance, Mr Burnham also warned it was a “profound mistake” for Mr Corbyn to create doubt over future European Union and Nato membership.

He also warned Prime Minister David Cameron not to try to “bounce” Labour into supporting military action in Syria.

He floated the prospect of raising taxes to increase spending on defence, telling the Royal United Services Institute: “The first job is not to save money, it is to keep this country safe.”

And he committed himself to maintaining the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, warning that cutting the number of submarines would provide only “part-time” cover and “defeat the object of the exercise”.

But he said Britain should aim to ensure the £25 billion Trident update is “the last time we renew our nuclear deterrent” by re-energising moves on multilateral nuclear disarmament.

If elected prime minister, he would put disarmament on the agenda when Britain next hosts the G7 group of major powers early in the next decade, he said.

Asked whether he would quit a shadow cabinet led by Mr Corbyn if told to vote against Trident renewal, he said: “The answer is yes. I couldn’t support that position. It is the wrong position for Britain to take, so I wouldn’t be able to go out publicly to defend it.”

He added: “Jeremy Corbyn has made a commitment to saying he will let the party come to a view on these issues and that is a helpful statement, but in my view Labour shouldn’t be allowing any room for prevarication or equivocation on issues of such huge national importance.”

He said as Labour leader he would be willing to “look carefully” at extending air strikes against Islamic State into Syria but only if the government sets out “clear and definable” objectives and explains how they could succeed in the absence of “clear and sufficient capacity on the ground from a viable and united opposition”.

Ministers must prove the legality of any proposed action “beyond question” and have a “credible” post-conflict plan, he said. “Britain’s involvement – if there is to be any – needs to be very carefully judged,” he said. “The thought we might be bounced into this decision is utterly wrong. I want to send a very clear message to the Prime Minister that if he is thinking of doing that, then he should think again.”

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