A senior Tory MP has raised fresh questions about the renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent after calculating the overall cost could reach £167 billion.
Crispin Blunt, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said the “excessive” expenditure suggested it was time to pull the plug on the project.
He has been told by a defence minister that the cost of the replacement of the ageing submarine fleet – previously put at around £25 billion – was “currently being refreshed” as part of the government spending and strategic defence reviews, suggesting it could go higher.
In a Commons written answer, Philip Dunne also confirmed that in-service costs were expected to swallow up 6 per cent of the defence budget through to the 2060s.
Mr Blunt calculated that given the government’s commitment to meet a Nato target of devoting 2 per cent of national wealth to defence – and assuming annual GDP growth of 2.48 per cent between 2020 and 2060 – that would see the bill spiral to £167bn, much higher than previous estimates. “How much is too much? There has to be a point where this programme ceases to be value for money,” he said.
“I believe that this level of spending commitment is excessive as it will mean forgoing an effective conventional capability in order to maintain one weapons system that is unlikely ever to be used.
“This doesn’t even consider the inherent risk of concentrating our deterrent on one platform that I fear may be very visible to advanced sonar by 2050. If that happens the mistake will be even more costly.”
He added that the price was “now too high to be rational or sensible”.
A crunch Commons vote on whether to go ahead with the renewal is due within months.
Labour is split on the issue, with leader Jeremy Corbyn accused of undermining an internal debate by declaring last month that he would never authorise the weapons’ use if he was PM.
Stewart Hosie, deputy leader of the anti-Trident SNP, said it was an “unthinkable and indefensible sum” to spend, not least at a time of austerity. “How can Tory MPs expect to be able to look their constituents in the eye when on the one hand they are taking thousands of pounds from hard-working low-income families who rely on tax credits and with the other they plan to pour money into brand new weapons of mass destruction?
“It was already ludicrous to consider the renewal of Trident when the cost was £100bn but these figures show just how dangerous the Tories’ obsession with nuclear really is.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “In July 2013, the government published an unclassified version of the Trident alternatives review, which demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable, or as cost-effective, as a Trident-based deterrent.
“At around six per cent of the annual defence budget, the in-service costs of the UK’s national deterrent which include the costs of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, basing and disposals, are affordable and represent an investment in a capability which plays an important role in ensuring the UK’s national security.”
The new figures tally with comments this month by Jon Thompson, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, when he described the project to replace the deterrent as a “monster”.
“That’s the project that keeps me awake at night the most,” he told parliament’s public accounts committee.