UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland 8:12 pm, 18th July 2016

So it is that I, as a democratic socialist, support every word of the motion before us in the name of the Prime Minister, because the truth is that the preservation of our national security does not wear the colours of any political party.

I begin by reaching out to all those in our country who do not support the retention and renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. This is a frequently polarised debate, but I want to say to those who oppose renewal that I understand how and why they feel the way that they do. I understand how and why their opposition to nuclear weapons motivates them to vote and act in certain ways, and I understand their fears. Like those people, like every defence worker and trade union representative of defence workers, and like the people who live in the communities where those jobs are so valued, I hope for a world free of nuclear weapons. I wish that we could uninvent those weapons of mass destruction, but we cannot, and will never be able to do so.

The world is an increasingly difficult and challenging place. The complexities we face in international affairs, foreign relations and diplomatic matters are increasing, not receding, and even if a mood swept our country that saw unilateral nuclear disarmament as desirable, I would argue against such a move. Multilateralism is the only way forward for our country. We can and should only divest ourselves of our nuclear weapons when those who seek to do us harm divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals too. The arguments for a multilateral approach to the UK’s nuclear deterrent, our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, our responsibilities towards our allies, global security, and more, are compelling.

An American diplomat told me recently about an emerging view on the left and right of American politics that the United States is tired of both fighting and paying for Europe’s safety. American politicians, in Congress and elsewhere, increasingly think that their European partners are not pulling their weight. There is already a long-term diplomatic pivot taking place in US foreign policy. Other alliances outside of Europe are being sought and established. That is the right of the US, but we risk the strategic relationship that we have enjoyed with it if we conspicuously fail to take the necessary steps to maintain our own nuclear deterrent.

Alongside this, we have a belligerent Russia on the borders of the European Union—a Russia that is now not only replacing its nuclear fleet but renewing it with a new programme of research, development and manufacture for a new generation of nuclear missiles. More concerning is the fact the Russian military has changed its nuclear engagement protocols. The new protocols permit the use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict in order to achieve “de-escalation”—an incredible proposition, but true none the less. Is this the time, with a weaker EU, an exasperated United States, and a sabre-rattling Russia, for the United Kingdom to abandon its nuclear deterrent? No, it is not.