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Why Michael Fallon won’t promise Tory support for Trident under Labour

The Defence Secretary wants to avoid neutralising the charge that the UK's nuclear deterrent is threatened by the SNP. 

By George Eaton

For a man supposedly committed to protecting Trident at all costs, Michael Fallon seemed oddly reluctant to do so during today’s Daily Politics debate. After warning shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker that a minority Labour government would be unable to renew the UK’s nuclear deterrent (owing to the SNP’s stance), the defence secretary was repeatedly challenged by Coaker and presenter Andrew Neil promise Tory support in these circumstances.

Here’s the exchange and the video (courtesy of LabourList)

Michael Fallon: How can you get a renewal of Trident if you are a minority Labour government, you can’t get power on your own, you are being propped up by the SNP, how can you possibly get it through when Nicola Sturgeon has said it is absolute red line …

Vernon Coaker: We will not negotiate on this …

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Fallon: But if you are a minority government you have to …

Coaker: Why?

Fallon: Because you wouldn’t be able to get it through otherwise …

Coaker: How would you vote?

Fallon: Look we can’t leave …

Coaker: How would the Conservatives votes?

Andrew Neil: Couldn’t the Labour government count on the Conservatives to get Trident through?

Fallon: You want to leave our nuclear defence to the uncertainty of a 10 o’clock vote, not knowing which MPs are going to vote which way .. cobbled together a deal with the SNP … it’s too important to be left …

Neil: Let’s accept that they couldn’t expect the support of the SNP, why though could a minority Labour government not count on the support of the Conservatives?

Fallon: Because then you’d have uncertainty.

Neil: There wouldn’t be uncertainty of you voted for it?

Fallon: The way to be absolutely sure about our nuclear defence is to vote Conservative …

Neil: But why would you not support a Labour government that was going to renew Trident?

Fallon: Our aim in this election is to have a majority Conservative government …

Neil: You haven’t answered my question …

Fallon: … where you don’t have that question because you can avoid that question …

Neil: But if you lose the election …

Fallon: … we are not planning to lose the election …

Neil: Answer the question …

Fallon: You can avoid that question by voting …

Neil: You are avoiding the question, Michael Fallon, why would the Conservatives not support a minority Labour government on Trident?

Fallon: The country needs to avoid that question by the certainty of a Conservative government that is absolutely committed. We can’t have this confusion or uncertainty about a cobbled-together …

Strange behaviour, you may think, for someone who just three weeks ago claimed that Ed Miliband was prepared to “stab the United Kingdom in the back” by scrapping Trident. But there is a simple explanation for Fallon’s equivocation. Were he to promise Tory support for Trident under a Labour government, the charge that it is threatened by the SNP would immediately evaporate. However many MPs the nationalists have after the election, they would be easily outnumbered by the combined ranks of the pro-Trident parties.

But Fallon’s stance does show the dilemma the Tories will face if they return to opposition. On issues on which Labour and the SNP are divided, do they back Miliband or do they opportunistically seek to defeat him? 

Meanwhile, Labour MP John Woodcock, who has pledged to resign as an MP if his party does not renew all four Trident submarines, has tweeted: “Michael Fallon today demeaned the party of Churchill and showed the Tories are unfit to be trusted with the country”.

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