Theresa May tells MPs not to take ‘reckless gamble’ of scrapping Trident
Theresa May has warned that ditching Britain’s nuclear deterrent would be a “reckless gamble”, as MPs prepare to vote on the Trident missile system.
The Prime Minister will open the debate for the Government this afternoon, making her first appearance at the despatch box since entering No 10.
She will say that the nuclear threat has “not gone away, if anything, it has increased”.
Labour is split three ways on the issue, as Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to vote against the standing party policy of backing Trident renewal, key figures in the Shadow Cabinet will abstain, and the bulk of MPs are expected to vote in favour of the motion.
The question to be put to MPs is whether they support replacing the current Vanguard submarines which carry the Trident warheads with four new Successor submarines – a programme that is currently estimated to cost £31bn with a £10bn contingency.
According to The Times, new Chancellor Philip Hammond wants to make sure the Treasury takes a role in the project to stop costs spiralling out of control.
The vote itself is not binding, but the Government has pledged previously to seek the consent of MPs about renewal.
Mrs May, who stressed the importance of a swift vote on Trident when she was running for the Conservative leadership, will argue it would be “gross irresponsibility” for the UK to give up its nuclear deterrent.
“It is impossible to say for certain that no extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life,” she will say.
“And it would be a gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future.
“Once nuclear weapons have been given up it is almost impossible to get them back – and the process of creating a new deterrent may take decades."
She will add: “We cannot compromise on our national security. We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we shoulder for keeping our people safe. And we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism.
“That would be a reckless gamble: a gamble that would enfeeble our allies and embolden our enemies. A gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.”
Labour MPs will not be whipped on the vote, leaving them to free to vote how they wish.
The existing party policy remains in favour of renewing Trident as a review set up by Mr Corbyn, a longstanding unilateralist, is yet to report.
The Labour leader told the Guardian he would vote against the Government’s motion – and Labour policy – today: “I will be voting against continuous at-sea deterrent, because it rules out any compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
“I’ve been involved in peace transformation all of my life, and I think we’ve got an opportunity to show leadership in the world.”
The stance differs from the one put forward by Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis, two of Mr Corbyn’s allies who serve as Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Defence Secretary respectively.
The MPs, who are both proponents of unilateral disarmament, wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian that today’s debate was “shameful game playing” and pledged to abstain.
Deputy leader Tom Watson, who will form part of an expected majority of Labour MPs in favour of renewal, said it was “unacceptable” to abstain.
"Now the government have made us take another vote on this, you cannot absolve yourself of responsibility for making a decision," he told the BBC.
"Some people say Labour should abstain on this vote. I think that is unacceptable. You have to be responsible. You have to take a position. You either agree with Trident or you don't."
Labour leadership hopefuls Angela Eagle and Owen Smith have both said they will back renewal of Trident.
The SNP will oppose today's motion.