This morning, the Liberal Democrat Conference voted overwelmingly in support of an emergency motion to include Trident in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The issue had originally been excluded from conference debate but was inserted into this morning’s agenda when an emergency motion2 won the ballot for inclusion.

Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey MP and Baroness Shirley Williams were amongst those who spoke in support of the motion. No one spoke against. Mr Harvey said that the debate was a useful opportunity to restate Liberal Democrat policy: that the cost of Trident should be counted alongside other defence costs and that Trident should be included in the SDSR. He also pointed out that delaying the Main Gate decision on Trident until after the next general election would be very politically significant because it would force Labour to decide whether to back the Tories on Trident.

Baroness Williams told Conference that when Liam Fox said cancelling Trident would wreck the ‘special relationship’ with the US, he had clearly forgotten that Bush was no longer president and that Obama was working for a nuclear weapons free world. She said it would be ‘ludicrous’ if Britain moved to rearm. Martin Veart, representing a Scottish constituency, drew attention to massive numbers of defence jobs that would be lost in Scotland if Trident replacment went ahead. Two speakers referred with concern to jobs that would be lost at Barrow-in-Furness where the Trident subs are made, but both said that the priority should be for Lib Dem Ministers to press for proper retraining and redeployment for the skilled workforce at the site.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “We welcome the outcome of this debate and vote. The Liberal Democrats have strongly reasserted their policy on Trident and it is now clear that they will pursue those goals. The Coalition Agreement enshrined the fact that there are differences between the two government parties on Trident, but this conference has made clear that Liberal Democrat principles will not be swept aside and they will make full use of their right to pose alternatives to Trident replacement, up to and including disarmament. We now hope that Lib Dem Ministers will vigorously pursue the outcome of this motion to ensure Trident is indeed included in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. As many speakers observed, not only is Trident a Cold War weapon that needs to be strategically reconsidered, it also carries a massive opportunity cost in defence and other areas of public spending.

“Polling shows 57% of Lib Dem members reject Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons altogether and only 7% support the ‘like for like’ replacement planned by the Defence Secretary [note 3]. Lib Dem ministers know they will not be able to justify the spending cuts that will be needed if Trident replacement goes ahead. The public will not accept cuts to their public services to preserve this Cold War white elephant. We strongly hope Lib Dems in government will not just be trying to push spending decisions back, but making the positive case for a non-nuclear defence policy fit for the 21st century.”

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Emergency motion: Trident, 9am, Wednesday 22nd September
Winchester and Chandler’s Ford and 30 conference representatives

Conference notes that:

i) In July the Chancellor announced that the Ministry of Defence will have to fund the £20bn-£30bn capital costs of a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for Trident.
ii) The Defence Secretary has warned that this means severe restrictions in the way Britain operates militarily, regiments could be axed or the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy amalgamated.
iii) The exclusion of Trident from the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is now untenable; it should be included and receive the scrutiny which strategic, political and financial circumstances demand.

Conference calls on the Liberal Democrat ministers to:

1. Press for the extension of the SDSR to allow a full review of the alternatives to ‘like-for-like’ replacement of Trident.
2. Ensure the SDSR considers cost-saving options such as ending continuous at-sea patrols and extending the life of Vanguard submarines.
3. Ensure the SDSR makes explicit the opportunity cost of Trident replacement – in terms of cuts to troop numbers and equipment programmes.
Poll, 16th September 2010:
As you may know, there is currently debate about whether or not the UK should replace its Trident nuclear weapons system. Current policy is to replace the Trident submarines with a new fleet of boats, and to replace the ballistic nuclear missiles they carry at a later date. Which of the following options would you favour most?

Replace Trident with a broadly comparable system – 7
Replace Trident with a cheaper system – 32
Not renew Trident and give up nuclear weapons altogether – 57
Don’t know – 4

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.