BORIS Johnson's government is to push ahead with a £130 billion plan to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system despite the grave financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said today there were no proposals to postpone the programme with the new submarines to be moved to Faslane on the Clyde once they were built.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs in November of the worst economic contraction in more than 300 years, with borrowing by the UK Government in 2020-21 set to be the highest in peacetime.

Economists say with the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecasts show at least a £30bn annual hole in the UK Government's finances by the middle of the decade, with tax rises or public spending cuts looking inevitable unless there is a sudden and strong economic rebound.

The National:

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the programme to renew Trident would not be postponed because of the pandemic.

Appearing on the BBC this morning Wallace was asked whether given the "parlous" state of public finances the UK Government would still spend £130bn on renewing Trident or would consider postponing the programme.

Wallace replied: "If you were to postpone it now it would cost even more because parliament collectively voted, the United Kingdom voted, in 2016, to renew it. It is way into the development and building of it. 

"You go to Barrow in Furness ... you will discover we are half way through the first submarine. The point about renewal is it would be completely bonkers to decide you are going to have a nuclear deterrent but not update it, keep it effective.

"It would just be a waste. You either have them or you don't have them."

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Responding to Wallace, the SNP's defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP said it was "morally bankrupt" to spend hundreds of billions on weapons of mass destruction – while also imposing a public sector pay freeze.

"Instead of wasting hundreds of billions on more Trident nuclear weapons, the Tories should focus on boosting our conventional defence capabilities and ensuring our armed forces have the equipment, pay and support they deserve," said McDonald.

"The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the deep problems and inequalities in the UK after a decade of Tory austerity cuts.

"It is morally bankrupt to spend such obscene amounts on weapons of mass destruction we will never use, when the Tory government is imposing a public sector pay freeze and claiming it has no money to support families."

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He added: "People in Scotland have the right to determine their own future. At the election in May, the question for voters will be: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson?

"Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands so we can make different choices and build a strong, fair and equal recovery in line with Scotland's interests and values."

The SNP has for years committed itself to removing what it regards as an “immoral and expensive” arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

The National:

The location of the Trident nuclear weapon system on the Clyde has been met with opposition and protests.

Costs of renewing the successor generation of submarines, dubbed Dreadnought, vary with some suggesting it would be around £130bn, while others suggest it could be as much as £179 billion over its lifetime. By the time it is operational in the late 2020s, the cost may have swelled to £200bn given the nature of inflated prices.

Nicola Sturgeon committed to the removal of Trident nuclear missiles in the SNP's manifesto for the last general election  - putting the demand as part of her price of her support for a minority Labour government at Westminster.

SNP CND members last year drew up a timetable for Trident to be removed from the Clyde within three years of a Yes vote.

However, the group's resolution was not selected for debate at the party's annual conference in November.

Ahead of the 2014 independence referendum the Scottish Government pledged to remove Trident but did not give a timescale. 

The SNP’s current policy which says the process of removing nuclear weapons should be done “speedily” but does not give a definite timescale.

Bill Ramsay, convener of SNP CND, warned setting the timescale was vital as he believed the UK could put pressure on an independent Scotland to seek to use Faslane as a base for its new Dreadnought submarines in the coming years.

He told The National in July last year: "The three-year timescale is ambitious but SNP CND believe it is technically feasible.

"As happened with our successful Roadmap for Trident Removal motion in 2018, we would expect the motion to be discussed widely in the party and given that SNP CND believe important decisions be taken democratically the final wording would be for the party members to decide.

"The rUK will want to extend the time frame with the aim of having the replacements to the Vanguard-class subs, the Dreadnoughts, be based on the Clyde, certainly for over five years, and then aim for the lifetime of the Dreadnought-class boats which is into the second half of the century.”

Amid the debate there has also been some discussion over whether the Faslane base could – or should – be rented out to the UK Government by an independent Scotland to generate finances for public spending by the new state.

The discussion followed an article written by Trevor Royle, a defence analyst and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who argued Scotland could follow Iceland which leased its air force base to America from 1949 to 2006 to generate revenue in the first decades of becoming independent from Denmark.