Coalition tensions over the future of Trident flared up yesterday as Nick Clegg warned Defence Secretary Philip Hammond over “jumping the gun” on the next generation of British nuclear-armed submarines.
The Deputy Prime Minister insisted that the final decision on replacing the deterrent would not be made until 2016, “however much other people may not like it that way”, as £350m in funding was announced for designing a new system.
Liberal Democrats are understood to be unhappy that the latest wave of cash is being used to indicate that a replacement will go ahead regardless of any recommendations that come out of its official investigation into other options. The Trident Alternatives Review will report back in the next few months.
A Ministry of Defence release said the investment “makes clear the Government’s firm commitment to maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence for future decades”.
But Mr Clegg said: “Having seen the papers this morning, I think some people are jumping the gun on this Trident decision.
“The idea of a like-for-like entirely unchanged replacement of Trident is basically saying we will spend billions and billions and billions of pounds on a nuclear missile system designed with the sole strategic purpose of flattening Moscow at the press of a button.”
Despite the MoD describing the money as “additional” funding, the Lib Dems insisted it was not new, and defence officials later confirmed it was the latest wave of the £3bn announced last year for the design stage. Mr Hammond announced the cash, which it is said will sustain 1,200 UK jobs, during a visit to the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent at Faslane on the River Clyde yesterday.
The SNP and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament insist that Trident supports only 520 jobs, but Mr Hammond said this “relates simply to one part of the facility here for weapons handling”.
Moving Astute and Trafalgar-class attack submarines there will create 1,500 “essentially new jobs” which will move to Scotland from the facilities where they are based, he said. “We have agreed with our Liberal Democrat coalition partners that we will look with them at whether there is any alternative which makes economic sense and provides an as-good nuclear deterrent capability,” he said.
“But in the meantime, we are pressing ahead with the design and development work.”
Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attacked the Government for “dumping” weapons of mass destruction on Scotland.
Downing Street said it was necessary to commit funding now to the design and development stage of the next-generation subs.