TODAY, the Westminster Parliament will debate giving a green light to replacing the existing Trident submarine nuclear deterrent system.

Actually, as everyone knows, work has long since begun on designing and constructing four new submarines to replace the existing, ageing Vanguard-class boats that carry the UK’s Trident missiles. The original decision to replace Vanguard was made by Tony Blair in December 2006.

The whole point of the Tory Government calling the debate today is to nuke the Labour Party while it is still embroiled in its own civil war. Cue right-wing Labour backbenchers knifing Jeremy Corbyn in the front.

Nuclear weapons are dear to the heart of the Labour right. It was Labour, not the Tories, who fathered the British nuclear deterrent in the first place. In 1946, Labour prime minister Clement Attlee and a small group of his cronies secretly took the decision to build Britain’s first atomic weapons.

Attlee’s foreign secretary, the pugnacious Ernest Bevin, summed up the decision: “We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.”

Acquiring nukes nearly bankrupted the British economy in the 1950s. And it was done in secret. Attlee was out of office by the time the first Labour-ordered British nuke was tested in 1952.

Churchill had returned to Downing Street as prime minister. His verdict on Attlee’s nuclear programme was swift: “I was rather astonished that something well over £100m could be disbursed without parliament being made aware of it”.

For £100m in 1952, read circa £4billion in today’s money. But that was only part of Labour’s nuclear bill. There were three different types of V-Bomber to deliver the weapons – their procurement made up around a fifth of the entire spending on defence in the 1950s. Then, there were the nuclear power stations to manufacture fissile material for Britain’s atomic bombs – and discretely for America’s, under the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

In another affront to democracy, Britain’s early military power stations were disguised as ‘peaceful’ electricity generating stations.

In 1957, a fire broke out in the core of one of the military reactors at Windscale, a result of faulty instrumentation. Radioactive material cascaded into the atmosphere through a 400ft-high chimney, making a deadly plume over the Lake District and beyond, blown inland towards Wales.

This was Britain’s worst ever nuclear “accident” – and Europe’s deadliest until Chernobyl in 1986.

Naturally, there was a gigantic cover-up. Only in 1993, did the Health and Safety Executive reveal that in the immediate neighbourhood of the disaster, the incidence of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma was still14 times the UK national average.

The old 1950s reactors at Sellafield – built as part of Britain’s early nuclear weapons industry – are now in the process of being decommissioned. The latest estimate of the cost of decommissioning is a staggering £48billion.

We are still paying for Clem Attlee’s nuclear folly.


SNP calls for a delay as MPs prepare for Trident debate


In October 2008, The Guardian revealed that Gordon Brown’s administration had granted Sellafield (run by an American-led consortium) an unlimited financial indemnity from the taxpayer against future accidents.

The economic impact of Labour’s infatuation with nuclear weapons was disastrous – something that we’ll not hear a lot about in today’s debate on Trident 2. We will be told that building a replacement submarine fleet will create jobs and safeguard skills.

But look more closely at the economics of the nuclear deterrent that Labour bequeathed us. Britain’s military nuclear programme reached its apogee in the decade between the 1955 and 1965. During this period, defence expenditure was more than six per cent of GDP – three times the current rate. It was also much higher than in Britain’s European competitors, who were fast overtaking the UK economically. They invested in industry and exports, the UK invested in nukes and bombers.

In 1957, seven per cent of the entire British workforce was in the military or support industries. One eighth of the output of the UK metal industries – vital for car exports – was going to military use. Result: brains, cash and technology were diverted from civilian manufacturing, resulting in the UK having to import its goods from abroad without the exports to pay for them.

This produced a humongous balance of payments deficit, which we funded by borrowing.

When Labour returned to power in 1964, under Harold Wilson, it paid the price of its atomic hubris by having to devalue sterling and then impose a massive austerity drive to balance the national books.

The UK was only rescued (temporarily) from recurrent balance of payments crises by the advent of North Sea oil, which provided the foreign exchange to pay for our imports, plus abundant tax revenues for the Treasury.

Unfortunately, this bonanza occurred under Mrs Thatcher. Rather than use the windfall to reinvest in modernising British industry, Thatcher cut taxes to create the pretence of national prosperity, based on consumer debt and an over-heated property market.

Today, Britain’s current account deficit – what we need to borrow to pay for our imports – is even bigger than it was even in the 1960s. Post-Brexit, the City is scared rigid this will lead to a dramatic collapse in the pound and a rise in interest rates that will kill economic growth.

The Labour right are happy to go on sacrificing economic prosperity on the altar of their absurd nuclear ambitions. Certainly the proportionate cost of the UK’s nuclear deterrent has been reduced since the 1960s, as a proportion of GDP. However, this has been achieved only by abandoning a truly independent British-made nuclear weapons system and instead buying US technology. We have only have access to the latter because it puts “our” deterrent under effective US political and military control. It also ensures the UK buys US technology, to the detriment of our own industrial base.

In the 1960s, the US Navy deployed 41 Polaris missile submarines. Such is the investment required to build replacements, America’s future missile fleet could shrink to 10. Hence the Pentagon’s desire that Britain shares the design cost by ordering new subs of its own.

They also want at least one of our new submarines to be on permanent deployment to the Pacific to help America confront China. Which explains the Tory government’s plan to build four subs rather than two or three, or to seek cheaper, all-British options for a deterrent, such as air-launched cruise missiles.

I will be voting against replacing Trident. Britain’s nuclear deterrent does not deter the likes of al-Qaeda or Daesh. It did not stop Putin annexing Crimea. For decades, maintaining the so-called independent deterrent has detracted from delivering a successful civilian industrial policy. In the future, a Trident replacement will only bind us further to America’s geopolitical adventures – especially if Donald Trump ends up in the White House.

Instead, let’s spend the £100bn Trident 2 will cost on revitalising industry for civilian and export purposes. And finally end the pretence that Britain’s nuclear deterrent is anything but Labour’s long-time vanity project.