DEFENCE Secretary Michael Fallon has appealed for Labour MPs to support the renewal of the UK’s Clyde-based Trident nuclear weapons system.
Mr Fallon urged the party’s “moderates” to ignore the views of leader Jeremy Corbyn and put “national security” first.
The call came after Mr Corbyn underlined his unilateralist views by becoming vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
The veteran left-winger has faced open criticism from some frontbench colleagues for undermining the party’s policy discussions by openly stating that he would “never” use nuclear weapons.
Mr Fallon said yesterday: “We have to take this decision now to renew our deterrent for the (20s) 30s, 40s and 50s and I would appeal to moderate Labour MPs to put national security ahead of party interest here and come and join us in renewing the deterrent in the way that all previous Labour governments have done.”
Mr Fallon rejected criticism that Trident is an outdated Cold War era weapon.
“It isn’t a Cold War weapon, it’s a weapon we use every day, every night, 24 hours a day,” he said.
“We are deterring people and there are 17,000 nuclear weapons out there. We can’t be sure in the 2030s, the 2040s, the 2050s, that some rogue state might use nuclear weapons against us.”
Shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott conceded that the “majority of the shadow cabinet” supported Trident renewal.
“The leader of the Labour Party is opposed to renewing Trident,” she said.
“As it happens I’m opposed to renewing Trident. But the majority of the Shadow Cabinet want to keep Trident.
“However, the policy is out to review. And those of us that think it will be madness to spend billions of pounds on Cold War weapons we can never use hope that the review comes up with the right answer.”
Ms Abbott refused to confirm reports that Labour is ready to commit to the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, even if Trident is not renewed.
“I’m not opposed to spending some of the money released by not renewing Trident,” she said.
Labour did not debate the issue at its recent UK conference, despite an anticipated showdown over the issue between the new unilaterlalist leader and his party.
However, the issue will come under the spotlight at the Scottish Labour conference being staged later this month.
The new Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, who has welcomed the debate, backs renewal. But many senior figures in the Scottish party such as MP Ian Murray and MSP Neil Findlay, who ran Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign north of the Border, are opposed.
John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, the home of the shipyards that build the UK’s nuclear submarines, said yesterday that Mr Corbyn’s decision to become vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament “sends a signal” that is “at odds” with the idea that Mr Corbyn will respect the will of his party.
Mr Woodcock said there is a “cast-iron majority of support” to renew Trident and it “will go through”. But Kelvin Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton North, said he welcomed the signals sent by Mr Corbyn on the subject.
“I want to see Trident not renewed,” he said.
“I want to see the existing Trident decommissioned and I think that there is a large body of opinion in the country that feels like that.”
It emerged at the weekend that the CND is planning a national demonstration against replacing Trident which it believes will echo its biggest ever protest against nuclear missiles 32 years ago. The plans emerged at what was billed as the most important CND conference since the Cold War over the weekend focussing on how to win the fight to halt the replacement of Trident.
CND says the Stop Trident Decision Time march and rally planned for 20 February in London would be expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters.
The vote on proceeding with a like-for-like renewal had been expected in the middle of 2016, allowing time for new submarines to be built before the existing fleet is taken out of service in the late 2020s.
Before the vote can take place the Government must complete the Strategic Defence and Security Review, looking at the threats facing the country for the years ahead.
Ian Chamberlain of CND said: “CND are calling a Stop Trident national demonstration. This could be one of the largest mobilisations against nuclear weapons this country has seen since the 1980s.”