UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:58 pm, 18th July 2016

We have been debating the issue of whether we should have an independent nuclear deterrent for 70 years. I suppose Ernest Bevin summed it up well. We have already heard the quotation about walking naked into the conference chamber, but Bevin said—only he could speak like this:

“We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the Union Jack on top of it.”

Like all of us, I have thought about this issue for many years, and, like most people, I have reluctantly concluded that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent. However, the debate is not just about whether or not we have an independent nuclear deterrent. I was campaigning with my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis 30 years ago in the Coalition for Peace through Security. The argument was about the existence of the independent nuclear deterrent, and we were supporting Michael Heseltine against unilateralists, particularly in the Labour party.

This is a serious debate in which we have to ask what sort of independent nuclear deterrent we want. I think it is our general conclusion that an independent nuclear deterrent based on submarines is the only viable form of a deterrent because it is the most undetectable given modern technology. I have no ideological qualms with either an independent nuclear deterrent or one based on submarines, but those who argue in favour of Trident have to keep making the case, because during the cold war the threat was clear and known, and an independent nuclear deterrent based on ballistic missiles designed to penetrate Moscow defences made a great deal of sense; we knew who would be striking us, and we knew who to strike back against, and this mutuality of awareness was what kept the cold war cold. Those who argue against a nuclear deterrent have to meet this fact of history: the existence of nuclear weapons kept the cold war cold.