Three-quarters of Labour MPs defy Jeremy Corbyn to back nuclear submarines

Posted On: 
18th July 2016

Deep splits within the Labour party burst into the open again tonight after three-quarters of their MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn to back the renewal of Britain's nuclear submarines.

Jeremy Corbyn is at odds with his Labour MPs
PA Images

A total of 140 backed the Government on the crunch issue, with just 47 - including Mr Corbyn - voting against.

Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry were among the 40 Labour MPs who abstained.

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Overall, MPs voted by 472 to 117 in favour of renewing the Vanguard class nuclear submarines.

The rebellion came as one former Labour frontbencher openly accused his leader of trying to split the party by defying official party policy and backing unilateral disarmament.

In an emotional speech during the six-hour Trident debate, Copeland MP Jamie Reed said: "For the first time I think ever we have witnessed the leader of the Labour party stand at the Despatch Box of this house and argue against the policy of the party that he leads.

"This is unprecedented, moreover this reckless, juvenile, narcissistic irresponsibility makes me fearful for the future of the party that I love. The sheer stupidity of this approach should be dragged out into the light and seen for what it is, because not only is renewal Labour party policy, it is the settled will of the country and every parliamentary decision relating to it will have been taken by 2020.

"Further to this, the British people will not vote for unilateral disarmament and that reality has to be dealt with. Because a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament is a bar to becoming elected. A democratic socialist party with this policy can campaign to rid this country of poverty, cam campaign  restore the National Health Service, to rebuild our economy, and to make sure that every man, woman and child in every community in our country enjoys equality of opportunity. But campaigning is all that it will ever do because a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament will ensure that we will never govern.

"This logic is inescapable and the leader of the Labour party knows it. And so we're forced to accept that the refusal to accept the established policy of the Labour party and to acknowledge the achievements of the greatest Labour government is not just a knowing embrace of electoral defeat, but a very real, a very studied and a very determined desire to split this Labour party."

Mr Corbyn had argued that renewing Britain's nuclear submarines contravened the country's responsibilities under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. He said the UK could set a global example by giving up its nuclear weapons.

He also confirmed that if he became Prime Minister, he would never authorise the use of nuclear weapons.

Mr Corbyn said: "I would not take a decision that would kill millions of innocent people. I don't believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way of going about international relations."

Tonight's rebellion is further evidence of the civil war currently waging within the Labour party.

Former Shadow Cabinet members Angela Eagle and Owen Smith - who both backed Trident renewal tonight - are both challenging Mr Corbyn for the leadership.

Talks were still ongoing between the pair tonight about one of them becoming a 'unity candidate' to take on the leader in a straight shoot-out.

It is thought that the candidate with the least backing among Labour MPs by 5pm tomorrow will drop out. Most observers expect that will be Ms Eagle.