Labour renews vow to keep nuclear weaponson February 25, 2021 at 10:30 pm

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The party says the Trident missile system is “non-negotiable” and pledges to support Nato.

HMS Victorious

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Labour’s support for keeping the UK’s nuclear weapons is “non-negotiable”, the shadow defence secretary is expected to say in a speech.

But John Healey will also promise to “lead efforts to secure multilateral disarmament” if the party wins power.

Labour dropped its policy of unilaterally getting rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons after then leader Neil Kinnock lost the 1987 general election.

But many on the party’s left remain vehemently opposed to that decision.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a long-time opponent of the UK’s Trident submarine-based missile system and a vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – said in 2015 that he would never use it if he became prime minister.

Yet maintaining nuclear weapons remained a pledge in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute think tank, Mr Healey will emphasise that the party leadership under Sir Keir Starmer is far clearer in its backing of this than Mr Corbyn was.

“Labour’s support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable and we want to see Britain doing more to lead efforts to secure multilateral disarmament,” he is expected to say.

Mr Healey will also say the party’s commitment to the NATO military alliance – which Mr Corbyn said in 2012 should be disbanded, but later argued should focus on reducing “tensions around the world” – is “unshakeable”.

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Analysis box by Helen Catt, political correspondent

This isn’t a change in policy, but it’s a distinct change in tone.

Labour wants to make sure it gets a serious hearing on defence.

It knows that it needs its own position to be clear to be able to most effectively challenge the government’s decisions (which is particularly important with the Integrated Review due soon).

That means definitively answering some of the questions which have been raised over recent years, especially around NATO and nuclear weapons.

Keeping Britain’s nuclear weapons system has always been a divisive issue within Labour but it is party policy.

That didn’t change under Jeremy Corbyn but his lifelong personal opposition to nuclear weapons – and his statement in 2015 that he would never use them – allowed Labour’s commitment to be questioned

Stating that it is “non-negotiable” ends that speculation, although it is unlikely to go down well with everyone in the party.

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The government launched its Integrated Review last year, looking at the UK’s long-term foreign policy and defence priorities.

Mr Healey will say that, “at a time of geopolitical uncertainty and technological change”, ministers must not “smother strategic decision-making in clouds of rhetoric and hubris”.

“We cannot any longer go fudging and fumbling our way into the future, with major procurement projects at the mercy of the illusion that ‘something will turn up’ to pay for them,” he will add.

Margaret Thatcher

The government has promised an increase in spending on defence of 2.6% above the rate of inflation between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

It expects the overall figure to rise to £41.5bn during this time.

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government first acquired Trident – using submarines to carry up to eight missiles each – in the early 1980s, replacing the previous Polaris system.

Opponents say the maintenance and update costs – running into billions of pounds – are excessive and that the deterrent effect of such weapons is questionable, and that is not truly independent as it relies on US technology.

But supporters argue that there is no alternative, and that Russia and China already have nuclear missiles, with several others attempting to develop them.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described Trident as “vital” to protecting the UK.

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