Labour defence review 'unlikely to support nuclear submarines without warheads'


Labour's defence review is unlikely to support Jeremy Corbyn's idea of sending nuclear missile submarines to sea without warheads, according to a senior MP.

Shadow defence minister Toby Perkins said he suspected that the "final analysis" would not support the idea suggested by his party leader.

Mr Perkins said he had seen nothing so far to change his mind about his support for renewal of the Trident system.

The party's review of defence policy is being led by shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry, who has said she is "extremely sceptical" about Trident.

Mr Perkins told BBC 5 Live's Pienaar's politics: "My view going into the general election was that our policy was right. But Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, his views on these issues are long held and well known.

"I think it's perfectly sensible for a party in opposition, thinking about why it lost, to review what it is doing. For all those of us who have historically supported multilateral rather than unilateral disarmament, it is worthwhile that we throw ourselves into the debate about whether or not Trident - which is a huge expenditure - is the right move for the country to have.

"I'm happy that we are having the review, but what the review comes out with - Emily has gone into this with an open mind, so have I, but I have not seen anything yet that's changed my view that our policy at the last general election was right."

In January Mr Corbyn reiterated his long-standing opposition to nuclear weapons but pointed out that the submarines which carry the Trident missiles could be deployed without their nuclear warheads on board.

"They don't have to have nuclear warheads on them," he said. "There are options there."

Ms Thornberry later confirmed she was looking at the "Japanese option" - retaining the capacity to build nuclear weapons without actually possessing them.

Asked about Mr Corbyn's suggestion, Mr Perkins said: "I suspect that won't be what the final result of the review is."

He added: "I suspect that won't be the final analysis that the review comes to but there are a number of different considerations here - what is the most important way to spend what are still, even in these times, limited defence resources, how do we best contribute towards multilateral global nuclear disarmament?

"There is a question about the jobs that are created and the huge importance of our defence capability in terms of industry."

He said that at the end of the process "I hope that we will come up with a policy the party can get behind".

Mr Corbyn has said he would not press the nuclear button if he was prime minister, but Mr Perkins suggested that the issue of nuclear capability should be separated from whether an occupant of Number 10 was prepared to launch a strike.

"The question of the capability we have is a different one to the attitude that an individual prime minister will take to how he manages the defence of the realm during the time he is in," Mr Perkins said.

The shadow minister's comments came after the Sunday Times reported that moderate Labour MPs could fight the next election on a separate, pro-Trident manifesto if Mr Corbyn changes party policy to oppose renewal of the nuclear deterrent.

Former frontbencher Jamie Reed told the newspaper he had spoken to dozens of colleagues who would go to the polls backing Trident renewal in defiance of their leader.

"The vast majority of Labour MPs are keen to listen to and represent the ambitions and views of Labour voters and ex-voters," the former shadow health minister said.

"It's entirely possible that MPs will react in a similar fashion to policy proposals with catastrophic consequences such as abandoning Trident renewal. It's ultimately about saving, not splitting the party."

But Mr Perkins said: "We have got a review, it's not wise to go into a review, particularly when you are a shadow defence minister, saying 'if the review doesn't decide what I want it to decide then I'm going to ignore it anyway'."

A vote on replacing the four submarines which carry the Trident deterrent is expected in the Commons, but the timing of it has yet to be confirmed.

Tory chairman of the Commons defence select committee Julian Lewis warned against playing politics with the timing of the Trident vote amid speculation it could be delayed until after the party conference season in order to maximise Labour's discomfort.

He told Sky News' Murnaghan programme:  "I can only assume that the reason for this overdue vote being delayed until then (conference season) is that some of the so-called strategists who advise the Prime Minister are suggesting that it would be better for Labour to impale themselves further on the hook of unilateralism."

He went on: "So the fact is, party politics has been wriggling its way through this whole debate and it shouldn't. "