Friday, 5 April 2013

Cheltenham MP: PM wrong to pre-empt Trident review

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood has condemned David Cameron’s declaration today that Britain needs to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent.  Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister cited the ‘evolving threat’ from North Korea among other reasons to spend £20 billion on like-for-like replacement of Trident, which could ultimately cost closer to £100 billion over its whole lifetime.  Martin, who also chairs the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party’s international affairs committee, has warned that Mr Cameron’s comments pre-empt the cost-effectiveness study insisted on by Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Agreement.

The value for money study was agreed so that alternatives to Trident could be properly evaluated by government, and was initially led by former Lib Dem defence minister Nick Harvey MP.  It is being completed by Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP, and is expected to report within the next few months.

The Liberal Democrats opposed Tony Blair’s plan for the early renewal of Trident and forced its cancellation when the coalition took office.  The critical ‘main-gate’ decision on whether to proceed will now be taken in 2016 – after the next General Election.

Martin said: ‘David Cameron is obviously trying to pre-empt the cost-effectiveness study just before its publication.  The truth is that the Trident system was designed to deter an attack from the Soviet Union and this strategy is long overdue for a rethink.  Today’s world poses different threats such as international terrorism and regional destabilisation and makes very different demands on our military.  It is far from clear that we can afford like-for-like replacement in any case but, even if we could, we need to ask if £20 billion wouldn’t be better spent on fighter planes, frigates or other conventional military resources, or on other priorities altogether like hospitals and schools.

Linking Trident renewal to the genuine regional crisis in East Asia is topical but silly.  No one believes that Korean missiles could ever reach the UK and the idea that Trident could help to defend Japan or the United States against North Korean aggression will be received with hilarity in the Pentagon. 

Our central purpose in government is to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.  I cannot see how spending tens of billions of pounds of public money on cold war technology will help us to achieve that.  I hope the cost-effectiveness study insisted on by the Liberal Democrats will identify realistic and cheaper alternatives.  David Cameron would be wise to wait and read it before trying to undermine it.’

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