UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Defence) 6:27 pm, 18th July 2016

Job losses are a concern wherever they occur and whoever the Member is, but I can say that the SNP has never and will never advocate the closure of Faslane. As a conventional naval base, Faslane has a bright non-nuclear future as part of an independent Scotland and I look forward to representing it as such. In the decade since the Government gave over time to debate Trident, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. The threats emerging from this rapidly changing world should force us to re-examine everything we once took for granted. We have heard often this afternoon that the world is a far more dangerous place than ever before. Just as the threats we face are far more complex and nuanced, so our response should be too, but sadly the Government have singularly failed to address that today.

Rushing to arm ourselves with even bigger submarines carrying even more devastating nuclear weapons does not reflect the reality spelled out in last year’s SDSR. Just nine months ago, the SDSR laid out what the Government regarded as tier 1 threats facing the country. As defined by the Government, they were: international terrorism, cyber-attack, hybrid warfare and natural disaster. Nuclear attack by a foreign power was not regarded as a tier 1 threat, yet today we are told that we cannot sleep safely in our beds unless the green light is given to spend almost £200,000 million—as Crispin Blunt tells us—on a renewal programme.

The world, and the threats we face, are changing, and the UK faces the problem of how to deal with this new world. The choices we make now will determine what we can do in the future, so let us be absolutely clear: as much as we would like to, we cannot do everything. This is about stark choices, and those choices have got an awful lot harder for the proponents of Trident since the Brexit vote and the prospect of our leaving the EU, especially given the recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which states that the UK’s GDP will reduce by up to 3.5%, resulting in the infamous black hole in the public finances of up to £40 billion by 2020. Surely the House has to know what that means for defence procurement before we sign a blank cheque for Trident.

Surely we are entitled to ask, before sanctioning £200,000 million for nuclear weapons, what the effect will be for our conventional forces. Will the Secretary of State tell us where the axe will fall in order that we might secure Trident? Will the Type 26 frigates be delayed yet again and their number further reduced? Is the Apache helicopter programme at risk? Will the F-35 programme be scaled back? Or will the axe once again fall on our already hard-pressed service personnel? It is not outrageous for the House, which is being asked to write a blank cheque, to ask for a full analysis of the cost of Brexit and the effect that the contraction of the UK economy will have on defence procurement.

We are being asked to buy four submarines, whose unique capability, we are told, is that they cannot be detected by hostile forces and therefore can move freely and undisturbed. That might well be the case today—I am sure they can—but can we honestly say that in 16 years, after we have spent £200,000 million, that unique capability will still exist? Every day, highly paid, highly intelligent people go to work in laboratories across Russia, China and the USA with the express intention of making the big missile submarine detectable and therefore useless. In all probability, by the time these new boats come into service, they will be obsolete and as difficult to detect as a white-hulled cruise ship is today.

There is no moral, economic or military case for possession of these weapons, and I will join my 57 colleagues from Scotland in voting against the motion. Despite Scotland’s overwhelming rejection of Trident, however, sadly I expect the motion to carry and Scotland to find itself in the intolerable position of having weapons of mass destruction that we do not want foisted upon us by a Government we did not elect. It is an intolerable situation, and I question how much longer it can continue.