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18 September 2007: for immediate release

Social Democratic parties in Central Europe came together late last week to reject the US plan to build missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying that it threatened to bring about a new arms race . The statement from many of the Labour Party’s sister organizations increases pressure for a debate on the issue at next week’s Party Conference, where MPs and constituency parties are calling for a full parliamentary vote on UK involvement.

Leaders of Social Democratic parties in Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia issued a statement late on Thursday after talks in Prague stating that any such system must not be built unilaterally or bilaterally.

“We are concerned about the decision to deploy the system and are at one with the large majority of our populations in rejecting it… We must avoid any undermining or division of the international efforts to secure non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and arms control. We do not want any new missiles in Europe!” read the joint statement, signed by the Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and the leader of Germany’s main opposition SPD, Kurt Beck, amongst others. Polls in the UK show that a majority of the public think hosting missile defence facilities increases the security threat faced by the UK and Europe, with 68% wanting Parliament to decide on any plans.

On the last day before the Parliamentary recess, Defence Secretary Des Browne announced that the UK will host missile defence facilities at RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, in addition to allowing the Fylingdales radar to be part of the system.

Pressure has been building amongst MPs and party activists for the consultation and vote promised by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to actually happen. In February he told the Commons “I am sure that we will have the discussion in the house and, indeed, outside the house…When we have a proposition to put, we will come back and put it.” [note 4]

Now, grass roots members are echoing the call by MPs for a debate at Labour Party Conference, with an emergency resolution  circulating amongst constituency committees. The agenda-setting Conference Arrangements Committee has already ruled out one motion on Missile Defence from the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency neighbouring the US base at Menwith Hill.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “Gordon Brown should listen to his European counterparts and reject the destabilising US plan for missile defence. The polls show the public don’t want this decision to be made behind closed doors – allowing Labour Party conference to discuss UK involvement would show whether he is serious about creating a more listening government.”

Jon Trickett, MP for Hemsworth, near to the Missile Defence bases and Chair of the Compass Parliamentary Group, said “In committing both Menwith Hill and Fylingdales to the Missile Defence programme, the US Government are using Britain as little more than a military outpost. By endorsing these decisions and bypassing our democratic process, our Government risk the safety and security of the British people and commit to a military system that will allow the US to launch attacks when and where they choose with the intention of making themselves invulnerable to reciprocal attack. Public opposition to the bases must be harnessed to force the Government into a debate on British engagement in this essentially aggressive military programme.”

end

Notes to Editors:

1. For further information and interviews please contact Ben Soffa, CND’s Press & Communications Officer, on 0207 7002350 or 07968 420859

2. On the question of whether “the UK’s support and involvement in the US National Missile Defence programme, including the stationing of US radar and communications bases in Yorkshire should be decided by the UK Parliament” 68% agreed, with only 14% disagreeing. 18% did not know. 54% of the public agree (compared with 24% who disagree) that “the siting of US missiles and early warning bases in the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the US National Missile Defence programme, increases the security threat faced by the UK and Europe.” 22% did not know either way. Figures from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,049 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 30th July 2007.

3. No to US Missile Defence

Conference notes the statement of opposition to the US Missile Defence programme issued by Social Democratic party leaders and heads of government of Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia on 14th September.

Conference notes in particular the passage stating ‘We are concerned about the decision to deploy the system and are at one with the large majority of our populations in rejecting it.’

Conference further notes the opposition to US Missile Defence in the UK, shown by a YouGov poll of 3rd August stating that 68% of the public believe that the UK’s support for US missile defence should be decided by the UK Parliament, and 54% of the public believe it will increase the security threat faced by the UK, and the letter signed by a number of Labour MPs on 3rd August, stating ‘The continued and increasing involvement in US missile defence potentially puts the UK on the frontline in future wars’.

Conference welcomes the stated opposition of our sister parties in Europe and calls on the government to withdraw the UK’s support for the US Missile Defence programme and to use its influence in Europe to oppose the stationing of US Missile Defence bases there.

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.