Dropping Trident will lead to a richer, safer Britain

Labour should consider the non-renewal of the trident nuclear weapons system as part of its future defence and security policy, writes Nick Brown.

It is not possible to envisage a situation where Britain would, independently, use its nuclear weapons system without the support of our NATO allies. In the instance that Britain did use nuclear weapons, international law dictates that this would be in response to nuclear weapons being used against us, in which case the Trident system would have failed to have fulfilled its main purpose; that of a deterrent. Our membership of NATO provides us with collective protection under its nuclear umbrella, with the Trident system acting as an unnecessary duplicate of this.

The nature of international politics is changing. The threats faced today are not the same as in the second half of the 20th century. International instability is caused by factors such as terrorism, cyberwarfare, economic, political and social upheaval, as well as environmental issues. Many of these are key development issues which pose a threat to international security. An independent nuclear deterrent does nothing to address any of these factors. It distracts attention and diverts resources from the real challenges facing the world today and in the future.

In the current economic circumstances, and with large cuts to government budgets including the defence budget, it is difficult to justify spending nearly £100bn on a new nuclear weapons system, which we cannot use , which does not protect Britain from the threats to international security today and which does nothing to address these.

Britain under the Labour Government can rightly, and proudly, make claim to have played a leading role in promoting the international development agenda, both domestically and internationally. This helped to raise Britain’s standing on the world stage and increase our respect and influence abroad. ‘Soft’ power is an increasingly important aspect of international relations. By making a commitment to non-renewal of our independent nuclear weapons system and increasing our attention to new and emerging threats, Britain (and the Labour Party) can remain at the forefront of the international development cause, as well as taking a forward-thinking approach to our own defence and security policy.

By non-renewal of our independent nuclear weapons system, Britain will be setting an example to other nations who are either developing or aspire to have nuclear weapons. It would allow Britain to play a leading role in securing new nuclear weapons free zones, including in Africa and the Middle East. We should be realistic about the capacity for the UK to project military power across the globe and make greater efforts to lead by example rather than through force and coercion. The best way of achieving this would be through making a clear statement of intent through non-renewal of Trident and a redefinition of our defence and security policy towards new and emerging threats, including the need to address development issues which span national borders.

Nick Brown is Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and the former chief whip

Photograph: Getty Images

Nick Brown is the former chief whip of the Labour Party.

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Why Clive Lewis was furious when a Trident pledge went missing from his speech

The shadow defence secretary is carving out his own line on security. 

Clive Lewis’s first conference speech as shadow defence secretary has been overshadowed by a row over a last-minute change to his speech, when a section saying that he “would not seek to change” Labour’s policy on renewing Trident submarines disappeared.

Lewis took the stage expecting to make the announcement and was only notified of the change via a post-it note, having reportedly signed it of with the leader’s office in advance. 

Lewis was, I’m told, “fucking furious”, and according to Kevin Schofield over at PoliticsHome, is said to have “punched a wall” in anger at the change. The finger of blame is being pointed at Jeremy Corbyn’s press chief, Seumas Milne.

What’s going on? The important political context is the finely-balanced struggle for power on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, which has tilted away from Corbyn after conference passed a resolution to give the leaders of the Welsh and Scottish parties the right to appoint a representative each to the body. (Corbyn, as leader, has the right to appoint three.)  

One of Corbyn’s more resolvable headaches on the NEC is the GMB, who are increasingly willing to challenge  the Labour leader, and who represent many of the people employed making the submarines themselves. An added source of tension in all this is that the GMB and Unite compete with one another for members in the nuclear industry, and that being seen to be the louder defender of their workers’ interests has proved a good recruiting agent for the GMB in recent years. 

Strike a deal with the GMB over Trident, and it could make passing wider changes to the party rulebook through party conference significantly easier. (Not least because the GMB also accounts for a large chunk of the trade union delegates on the conference floor.) 

So what happened? My understanding is that Milne was not freelancing but acting on clear instruction. Although Team Corbyn are well aware a nuclear deal could ease the path for the wider project, they also know that trying to get Corbyn to strike a pose he doesn’t agree with is a self-defeating task. 

“Jeremy’s biggest strength,” a senior ally of his told me, “is that you absolutely cannot get him to say something he doesn’t believe, and without that, he wouldn’t be leader. But it can make it harder for him to be the leader.”

Corbyn is also of the generation – as are John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – for whom going soft on Trident was symptomatic of Neil Kinnock’s rightward turn. Going easy on this issue was always going be nothing doing. 

There are three big winners in all this. The first, of course, are Corbyn’s internal opponents, who will continue to feel the benefits of the GMB’s support. The second is Iain McNicol, formerly of the GMB. While he enjoys the protection of the GMB, there simply isn’t a majority on the NEC to be found to get rid of him. Corbyn’s inner circle have been increasingly certain they cannot remove McNicol and will insead have to go around him, but this confirms it.

But the third big winner is Lewis. In his praise for NATO – dubbing it a “socialist” organisation, a reference to the fact the Attlee government were its co-creators – and in his rebuffed attempt to park the nuclear issue, he is making himeslf the natural home for those in Labour who agree with Corbyn on the economics but fear that on security issues he is dead on arrival with the electorate.  That position probably accounts for at least 40 per cent of the party membership and around 100 MPs. 

If tomorrow’s Labour party belongs to a figure who has remained in the trenches with Corbyn – which, in my view, is why Emily Thornberry remains worth a bet too – then Clive Lewis has done his chances after 2020 no small amount of good. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.