MINISTRY of Defence chiefs were slammed by anti-nuclear weapon campaigners yesterday after putting on a glossy press tour of the HMS Vigilant ahead of the vote on renewing Trident.

The CND said they weren’t very keen on Government ministers “showing off” the “weapons of mass destruction as if there was something to be proud of.”

Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon used the visit to warn that the UK’s nuclear weapons had “never been more needed”.

“The world is less predictable, more dangerous,” Fallon said. “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.”

In a picture that wouldn’t have looked too out of place in Hello magazine, smiling submariners posed for pictures holding the trigger that would be used to activate the bombs. Photographers were allowed to take pictures of the safe containing the Prime Minister’s final instructions and the submarine’s control room. All this was alongside the more mundane shots of crew playing computer games and the ship’s cook standing beside some Coco Pops.

It was unprecedented behind the scenes access to the Vanguard class submarine.

Lt Cdr Woods, the man who, on this submarine, would pull the trigger if the time came, said it was an “honour and a burden”.

“An honour that our political lords and masters trust me with this sort of awesome responsibility, a burden because knowing what could be on your hands is obviously a heavy load to deal with,” the sailor said.

The 16-year Navy veteran continued: “We have to act on the orders of our political lords and masters.

“When you’re out at sea on patrol, then we don’t know the whole story – we have to trust that they know what they’re doing.

“If we’re in the position of launching, then the deterrence has failed and you have to consider that the landscape of the UK from a political point of view will not be what it was.”

A vote on renewing the nuclear programme is expected sooner rather than later. There had been a rumour that Fallon was going to use his visit yesterday to announce the date of the debate and the vote.

On Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Hearing rumours that [UK Government] might go for early vote on Trident renewal. Labour needs to move quickly [to] decide what side it’s on – hopefully against.”

MoD sources quickly denied there was to be an imminent announcement. Yesterday, all Fallon would say was that he wanted the vote quickly and before the end of the year.

“We need to get on and build the boats,” he said. “We’re already starting to order some of the items that Parliament authorised expenditure for at the end of the last parliament, so we’re preparing the design of the boats but it takes 10 to 12 years to build a new nuclear submarine and test it properly.”

John Ainslie from CND Scotland said the timing of Fallon’s visit and the timing of the debate were undoubtedly political: “We’re not very keen on Tory MPs turning up in

Scotland and doing a tour of their Trident toys and showing off these weapons of mass destruction as if there was something to be proud of. In our view they should be ashamed that they’ve got these things here and they should be looking to get rid of them and not renewing them.”

The campaigner continued: “The question of when this debate takes place is still completely up in the air, There’s been no clear indication of when it’s going to be. Whenever it does take place we want as many MPs to vote against it. The SSDR at the end of last year announced that the in-service date has been pushed back two years, probably four years, so the whole programme is delayed. This rush to make a decision is a political one rather than a formal thing about when contracts are signed.”

Labour is currently undertaking a somewhat controversial defence review, with Emily Thornberry looking at the so-called “Japanese option”, where the UK would still be able to build nuclear weapons but wouldn’t actually have them.

The National View: Trident must go. No amount of posing will change that