THE UK Government is expected to set out plans to increase the number of Trident nuclear warheads next week in what has been described as a “highly provocative” move.

In 2015 the UK’s strategic defence review committed to “reduce the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180” by the 2020s – but Whitehall sources indicated this cap may increase.

A report in The Guardian newspaper said the reasons for the move are unclear, and the exact increase in warhead numbers is currently unknown.

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There is speculation however that the increase could be planned to persuade the US to co-fund aspects of the Trident replacement warhead in the next decade.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons became effective in January of this year. The legally binding international agreement aims to ban nuclear weapons with a goal of their total elimination.

Addressing suggestions that the UK could increase its warhead numbers, David Cullen, the director of the Nuclear Information Service, said: “If this is confirmed, this would be a highly provocative move.

“The UK has repeatedly pointed to its reducing warhead stockpile as evidence that it is fulfilling its legal duties under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.”

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He went on: “If they are tearing up decades of progress in reducing numbers, it will be a slap in the face to the 190 other members of the treaty, and will be regarded as a shocking breach of faith.”

MPs backed renewing Trident in 2016. Most Tories supported this, Labour were split and the SNP voted against.

The majority of Scots (56%) believe Trident should not be renewed. Trident is based on the west coast of Scotland, at HMNB Clyde.

Last month Labour announced its “non-negotiable” support for the nuclear weapons.

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According to the Ministry of Defence, the cost of developing the next generation of Dreadnought submarines to carry the new warhead may be upwards of £30 billion.

A spokesperson for the MoD said: “The UK is committed to maintaining its independent nuclear deterrent, which exists to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life.

“Replacing the warhead and building four new Dreadnought class submarines are UK sovereign programmes that will maintain the deterrent into the future. We will not comment on speculation about the integrated review, which will be published on Tuesday.”