THERESA May wants to commit the UK to the £167 billion Trident system to “boost her macho credibility”, anti-nuclear campaigners claim.

The Tory leadership contender yesterday called for an urgent vote on replacing the ageing system, claiming it would be “sheer madness” to give it up in the face of threats posed by Russia and North Korea.

Writing in The Daily Mail ahead of yesterday’s Tory leadership hustings, May called for the vote to take place before parliamentary recess on July 21.

She said: “A lot of parliamentary business has, for obvious reasons, been put on hold until the leadership election is complete and a new prime minister is in post. But when it comes to the nuclear deterrent, the national interest is clear, the Conservatives are united, and we have waited long enough.”

May said a full fleet of four submarines providing permanent round the clock cover would send the message that Brexit UK remains “committed to working alongside our Nato allies and playing our full role in the world”. However, the Scrap Trident Coalition accused May of running a “sideshow” and vowed to give “vocal and persistent” opposition on the streets and at military sites.

Spokesman David Mackenzie said: “To boost her macho credibility May is ready to identify herself as willing to kill millions of innocent people. However, her sideshow is merely another indicator of the problem at the heart of this Westminster regime – its readiness to do the vilest things to maintain the elites it represents and the vanishing status of the UK.”

He went on: “Trident was such a key feature of the last independence referendum campaign because it summed up clearly the toxic attitudes and politics we are desperate to escape from into a sane, wise and compassionate way of living. The same will hold true for the second referendum.

“We can still hope beyond hope that the renewal will not in fact go ahead.The Trident renewal programme is a complete midden with planning timescale over-runs, ballooning cost, a shortage of engineers and an increased system dependence on the Pentagon.

“Our Scottish opposition to renewal will be vocal and persistent in our own parliament, on the streets, at the gates of Faslane and Coulport and at the roadsides as the warhead convoys rumble through.”

Jane Tallents of Trident Ploughshares said: “Theresa May reveals the real reasons for her urgency when she says that the Conservatives are united around the desire to replace Trident and that it is crucial to show that the UK will remain in Nato, and continue to play a leading role globally, she aims to consolidate her position as a strong candidate for Prime Minister, willing to use nuclear weapons to guarantee not our security but her place as next PM and the UK’s place on the UN security council.

“Trident Ploughshares and others will not roll over while the Westminster establishment pushes through an undemocratic decision to renew these dangerous and ultimately illegal weapon.” May’s comments were published as a Commons select committee reported on the forthcoming Nato Warsaw summit, which recommends “robustly” responding to Russian remilitarisation, reviewing the effectiveness of current deterrence against nuclear, conventional and other warfare and setting out the timetable for the Trident successor debate and decision “without further delay”.

Chairman Julian Lewis MP said: “Russia has not been a UK priority since the end of the Cold War and our expertise in this field has withered on the vine. The UK needs a vastly improved cadre of experts to help provide an effective response to the challenges which Russia now poses.

“We cannot hope to understand Russia without a forthright dialogue and, under current conditions of mistrust, we run the risk blundering into conflicts that may be preventable through better communication.”

While Jeremy Corbyn opposes Trident, his party is split on the issue, with many MPs who support the system pushing for his resignation.

SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara MP said: “Theresa May hopes to take advantage of a divided Labour Party to push this controversial spending through.”