Labour support for UK’s nuclear weapons at the cost of £205 billion
Labour’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s nuclear weapons is “non-negotiable”, the party’s shadow defence minister, John Healey, is expected to say in a speech on Friday
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute – which was set up by the Duke of Wellington and is the world’s oldest defence think-tank – he will say:
“First, Labour’s commitment to Nato is unshakeable,” he is due to say, according to extracts of the speech released in advance. “Second, Labour’s support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable. Third, Labour’s commitment to international law and the UN, to universal human rights and to the multilateral treaties and organisations that uphold them, is total.
“And fourth, Labour’s determination to see British investment directed first to British industry is fundamental, not just to our thinking on defence, but on the kind of society we want to build.”
Labour is, Healey will argue, “the party of sovereign defence capability – we see the steel industry, the shipyards, the aerospace and materials industries as a national asset.
“We want to see a clear plan from government to enhance these capabilities. We want to see, for the good of our country, as much as possible of our equipment designed and built here.”
The speech comes as the Government prepares to publish its long-delayed Integrated Review of defence, foreign affairs and international aid.
Experts fear the Army will be cut by 10,000 troops and scores of tanks will be scrapped – despite a record £16.5billion, four-year cash pledge from Boris Johnson last autumn.
Mr Healey will stress Labour’s plan to back UK industry with military procurement deals that benefit Britain’s defence, aerospace, shipbuilding and steel sectors.
He will say: “We are the party of sovereign defence capability – we see the steel industry, the shipyards, the aerospace and materials industries as a national asset.
We want to see a clear plan from Government to enhance these capabilities.
“We want to see, for the good of our country, as much as possible of our equipment designed and built here.”
Unions for defence workers hailed the commitments.
Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said: “We very much welcome the clarity set out in John Healey’s speech and what this means for the workforce.
“The cross-party support for the nuclear deterrent will reassure tens of thousands of highly-skilled workers engaged in building our nuclear submarines and the communities that rely on those jobs.”
Looking to the Integrated Review, which is expected to be published shortly, he added: “It is absolutely vital that the Integrated Review has at its heart a long-term industrial strategy for defence, clearly laying out a pipeline of work for our manufacturers.
“That certainty would unlock strategic investment that allows for the UK to maintain its sovereign capability to design, manufacture and maintain vital equipment for our Armed Forces.
“The UK urgently needs to give industry the ability to invest in skills, training and world-class facilities, which will pump resources into our regional economies as part of the Covid recovery.
“The alternative of buying off-the-shelf kit from the US might help level up for American workers but would do nothing for our highly-skilled workforce.”
GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said: “GMB supports our members who do the skilled and valuable work that maintains Trident, the communities that are sustained by Trident and support its renewal.
“We’ve long campaigned for Government defence spending to support manufacturing in the UK steel industry and the wider supply chain.
“We welcome the Labour Party spelling out clearly its long-standing support for building four new submarines at Barrow and all future upgrades, and calls to ensure the highly skilled manufacturing jobs in the defence industry and wider supply chain are kept and nurtured in the UK.”
“It’s common sense that we build on the skills, jobs, apprenticeships and prosperity at home.”
Community steelworkers’ union operations director Alasdair McDiarmid said: “We are pleased to see Labour remaining committed to using defence spending to stimulate the British economy and create new jobs, as well as recognising the importance the steel industry has to play in our national defence.
“The pandemic has highlighted the dangers of relying on fragile international supply chains and it is therefore imperative we retain and develop our sovereign steelmaking capacities.
“Protecting our key industries is fundamental to Britain’s economic independence and our national security, we must never take it for granted and we are therefore glad to see Labour backing British steel.”
£205 billion: the cost of Trident
Parliament voted in July 2016 to go ahead with building new submarines, the delivery vehicles for the nuclear missiles. In its National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, published in November 2015, the government announced a huge increase in the estimated cost of these submarines to £31 billion. Additionally, a contingency fund of £10 billion was allocated to the project.
The UK leases the missiles for the nuclear weapons system from the United States and will participate in that country’s missile life extension programme so that they can be used until the early 2040s. As set out in the government’s 2006 White Paper on ‘The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent’, this will cost £250 million, or £350 million in today’s prices.
The 2006 White Paper also stated that the current warhead will last into the 2020s and provided for up to £3 billion for the possible future refurbishment or replacement of the warhead. This is £4 billion in today’s prices. Another £3 billion (or £4 billion in today’s prices) is allocated for infrastructure at Faslane and Coulport bases over the lives of the submarines.
The biggest expense however is the day to day running costs, which the government confirms is around 6% of the total defence budget. Conservative MP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt worked with Reuters to estimate that over the lifetime of the system, this would add up to £142 billion.
An additional cost to the public purse is the conventional military forces who are assigned to support the nuclear weapons system. In 2007, the government said it believed around £30 million was spent on this function annually. Over the lifetime of Trident’s replacement, this will add up to just over £1 billion in total.