Nuclear testing at the Bikini Atoll. (Photo:Getty)
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Exclusive: 75% of Labour PPCs oppose Trident renewal

75 per cent of Labour's parliamentary candidates oppose renewing Britain's nuclear deterrent - including some in the party's safest seats.

75 per cent of Labour's prospective parliamentary candidates are against renewing Britain's nuclear defence system, Trident, the New Statesman can reveal. A representative survey for CND, seen by the NS, shows that Labour's parliamentary candidates - from traditionally safe seats to unwinnable Conservative strongholds through to some of the most vulnerable of Labour's target seats - are overwhelmingly against maintaining the nuclear deterrent when it comes up for renewal. 

The survey includes both longstanding members of Parliament and new candidates. Significantly, the new intake of MPs is much less pro-nuclear than the one that it replaces. Meg Munn, the hawkish Labour MP for the safe seat of Sheffield Heeley, will be replaced by Lou Haigh, who believes "investment in nuclear is immoral in and of itself". In Leeds East, George Mudie, who voted in favour of maintaining Trident in 2007, is replaced by Richard Burgon, who says:

Nuclear weapons pose a threat to the whole of humanity. For the sake of the whole of humanity and for the sake of generations still to come, we need to achieve a world free from nuclear weapons. I oppose the replacement of Trident and support a global ban on nuclear weapons. Opposing the replacement of Trident is not only right as part of a practical strategy to create a safer world – it will also save the UK Government £100 billion, which should be spent on hospitals, schools and job creation.

Outside those seats that Labour already holds, opposition to the deterrent is stronger among the target 106 than the overall pool, at 80 per cent. The Labour PPCs in Labour's target seats who are against the deterrent include Alex Sobel, a longstanding ally of Ed Miliband, who says:

I believe in a Nuclear Free World and believe we should put our weapons up for decommissioning at an international convention, encouraging others to do the same. I do not believe it is enough for the UK to disarm alone and we should use our position and Labour’s willingness to disarm to encourage others to do so. The next Labour government will conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review, and this should consider the possibilities and implications of scrapping and not replacing Trident. I believe that to be the minimum position. If elected as MP for Leeds NW, I would certainly be arguing for Trident decommissioning in that post-election review. When the next Labour government attends the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, it will be supporting a nuclear weapons convention or ban, similar to those for chemical or biological weapons? That is exactly my own position.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of her opponent, Purna Sen, Labour's candidate in Caroline Lucas' seat of Brighton Pavilion, is also opposed to maintaining the nuclear deterrent. She says:

My father joined the Aldermaston marches in the early 1960s and he introduced me to CND as a child. I grew up understanding the danger of nuclear weapons. The end of the cold war and the nature of modern conflicts confirm both their danger and irrelevance. Activists and brave governments have moved us away from other weapons of mass destruction. We now need a brave and forward looking government that will act to deliver a world free of nuclear weapons. I will continue to oppose these weapons as an MP, including Trident.

Even if Labour were to make only small gains, the unilateralist cause will be much stronger than in this parliament, even allowing for the likely defeat of longstanding anti-nuclear MPs in Scottish seats, such as Katy Clark and Ian Davidson. Nancy Platts, the PPC for Brighton Kemptown, regarded as low-hanging fruit by party insiders, and Catherine West, the PPC for Hornsey and Wood Green, which the party expects to win even if it loses the national contest by a heavy margin, both say they will vote against renewing the deterrent. Ms West says:

We live in an increasingly complex world where, now, more than ever, peaceful solutions to conflict are urgently needed. We can no longer spend the large amounts of public money on expensive weaponry. Some progress has been made in recent years to dissuade world powers from resorting to the production of nuclear weapons. We have an opportunity now to highlight the progress that has been made towards negotiation and the use of politics and diplomacy in resolving conflict. However, I believe we need to achieve nuclear disarmament once and for all. I support a global ban on such weapons as part of our commitment to nuclear disarmament, as was successful with other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons. I will oppose the replacement of Trident if elected as an MP.

Labour's support for maintaining a nuclear deterrent that is constantly at sea - in other words, a submarine system similar to Trident rather than pared-down version - was passed by the party's National Policy Forum without opposition and will remain in the manifesto. Passing the commitment through the House of Commons after the next election may prove a somewhat trickier ask. 

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.