Andy Burnham: Labour Trident policy agreement 'impossible'

Posted On: 
9th February 2016

Labour splits over Trident will be “impossible” to reconcile, Andy Burnham has said after the internal row over the nuclear deterrent flared up again.

Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry came under fire from pro-Trident colleagues last night when she suggested new technologies could make the submarine system obsolete like Spitfire planes.

bad-tempered meetingof the Parliamentary Labour party resulted in Ms Thornberry at one point telling fellow Labour MPs: “There's no point trying to shout me down.”



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Ms Thornberry is leading the party’s review into defence policy, including its stance on Trident.

But the intransigence of both sides led Mr Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary and a supporter of renewing Trident, to argue that no compromise option would be acceptable to both wings.

“We always knew this was going to be a difficult debate for the party, there are two positions here that are difficult to reconcile, maybe impossible to reconcile, and the party has got to find some way of accommodating those positions and move forward,” he told the Today programme.

“There’s some hybrid options are being put forward, but I think most people have found that they just don’t work. So, the discussion has been in the party about can you realistically try and find a sort of halfway house. And most people have concluded that you can’t...

“I think it’s impossible.”

Ms Thornberry, however, insisted it was not a “binary” choice between Trident renewal and unilateral disarmament.

She said technological advances could leave the stealth capabilities of the submarines compromised.

Speaking to Today, she said: “There are forthcoming generations of drones that can work under seas. Now, at the moment they have two problems; one is communications and the other is battery life. But I was explaining to the PLP that I’d actually met one of the Young Turks at the moment who is developing these drones and they are very hopeful that in the next 10 years or so that actually the seas will no longer be opaque.

“The idea of the Trident replacement is that it can hide in the sea. If technology is moving faster than that then it may well be that Trident will not be able to hide. And if that’s right, then if we are to bet everything on mutually assured destruction, we have to be assured that it is going to work. And if it can’t hide anymore, that is a problem.”

In a reflection of the depth of the disagreement, Lord West, the former head of the Navy and a minister in Gordon Brown’s government, called in to Radio 4 to label Ms Thornberry’s claims “nonsense”.


The Labour peer was one of those to challenge Ms Thornberry last night.

Other MPs gave similarly negative assessments of her presentation.

One said her apparent comparison between the Spitfire and Trident “went down very, very badly”; another said it was met with “gasps of disbelief”; and former frontbencher Kevan Jones described Ms Thornberry’s performance as “cringe-worthy” and “waffly and incoherent”.

Madeleine Moon, the Labour MP for Bridgend, appeared to make her unhappiness known on Twitter.


The Government has been foreshadowing a vote on Trident submarines in coming weeks.

The so-called ‘main-gate’ vote to build successor submarines could be held before the Commons breaks up for Easter recess.

There has been speculation that Labour could abstain from the vote – something Ms Thornberry failed to rule out this morning.

“Tories are talking about this as being a main-gate decision, a decision at which there is a no point of return in relation to Trident, and that is untrue; their own review says that they will not be having a main-gate vote,” she said,

 “I think that if that’s what they’re asking for [another vote on the principle of renewal], they are playing games with us. And we are having a legitimate review in the Labour party about this very important issue and if they’re trying to take advantage of that, then I think that does not show them in a good light. National security is an important issue and shouldn’t be played with.”