Tri-Service

Faslane: Inside Britain's Nuclear Submarine Base

“I'm here today because I want to emphasise that the nuclear deterrent has never been needed more than it is today.” the Defence Secretary...

“I'm here today because I want to emphasise that the nuclear deterrent has never been needed more than it is today.” the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said as he visited HMS Vigilant. The world he said “is less predictable, more dangerous.” 
 
"We've seen the North Korea nuclear test - now is not the time to start thinking about a world in which we wouldn't have this basic insurance policy." 
 
There is an element of political theatre every time a minister visits members of the Armed Forces at work, but on this visit there was no attempt to disguise its campaigning nature. 
 
Vigilant is alongside in Faslane for maintenance having recently returned from a three-month patrol deep in the ocean, providing Britain's continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent. 
 
The debate about Trident-renewal is actually about replacing Vigilant and the three other submarines that carry the missiles and warheads. The cost of building the Successor boats has steadily increased, up by about 20% in the last defence review to £31bn, with another £10bn set aside in case it goes up again. 
 
Mr Fallon insists Trident is value for money, that it's not a case of keeping the system 'at any cost'. But where there has been a cross party consensus on the nuclear deterrent for decades the government is now facing high profile opposition on the issue. 
 
 
The Scottish National Party, which won huge gains in the general election, would like Britain to disarm. So too would Labour's new(ish) leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons campaigner. 
 
But Labour's party policy is to support Trident renewal, many of Mr Corbyn's MP's back it, so do some of the most powerful unions. The issue is dividing the party, after all, the members who overwhelmingly voted Mr Corbyn into the top job knew full well where he stood on the issue, and this is why he's commissioned a review of the party's policy. 
 
The latest suggestion is Labour could choose a 'Japanese option', building the submarines and protecting defence jobs, but not putting them to sea with nuclear missiles. The argument is the nuclear capability could be kept at a more extended readiness, but not lost altogether. Michael Fallon brands the idea like making an imitation rifle. 
 
The government's plan for a vote in the Commons is intended to be a decisive moment in the debate. It is a vote that doesn't formally need to happen, but which the Prime Minister promised to hold as part of the Conservative manifesto. 
 
The Defence Secretary still won't give us a date beyond “shortly”, and won't even say if that could mean weeks or months. 
 
He insists there is still overhwelming public support for Trident renewal, and that it will be easily passed when a vote is called in parliament, he told me he's not concerned that Jeremy Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon may be changing people's minds. 
 
He may be right but the fact he's travelled to Faslane to 'emphasise' the 'need' for the nuclear deterrent highlights the fact Britain is soul searching on this issue in a way it has not done for some time, even if it looks unlikely to change its mind. 
 
 
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