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In February the Defence Secretary was forced to admit that the UK was going ahead with a new warhead for the Trident replacement submarines which will be co-produced with the United States.  However the Secretary of State only admitted this after MPs heard it via a Pentagon statement instead of hearing it from our government. 

 A public meeting of the International Relations and Defence Committee sat in the Lords on the 26th February.  The objective was to follow up on the inquiry into rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of the conference scheduled in the spring.  Senior officials from the Civil Service, giving evidence to the committee were: Samantha Job, Director, Defence and International Security, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Sarah Price, Head, Counter-Proliferation and Arms Control Centre (CPACC), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; James Franklin, Head of Nuclear Policy, Ministry of Defence

 You can watch the full exchange here.  

The Chair of the committee asked the MOD representative to comment on the sequence of events which led to the information issued by the Pentagon about the UK governments plans to renew the Trident warheads before Parliament was aware.  As she said “the cat had been let out of the bag”.

 James Franklin said it was important to look at the context of what the US announcement was in that process and the US hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to replace the warhead.  There is a plan in place and this was them approaching congress to do that.  He went on to say “I don’t think there has been any miss-engagement with Parliament in that process.”

Lord Reid asked to panel what developments there are in both the New START and the Open Skies Agreement. In particular whether the US was considering withdrawing from the Open Skies and what the UK’s current position is on the Treaty.

On the question Open Skies, Sarah Price said the government were fully supportive of the Treaty; this is an active area of engagement and that the “process of consideration for US withdrawal from the Treaty is still on-going”. In  regards to the New START, Samantha Job explained that the UK government was regularly talking to the US Administration, however the “New START doesn’t cover everything and doesn’t cover some of the missiles and technologies that Russia has announced it’s going to have.”

Budget

There was much discouragement of the government announcing it is to spend more than £900 million on nuclear fusion, space and electric vehicles as a “raft of other green measures”.  There was little in the budget in support of the environment and nothing around scraping the wasted £billions needed to replace the obsolete Trident.  Instead the Chancellor promised to  “support the most energy-intensive industries to transition to net zero” by extending the climate change agreement scheme for a further two years and has pledging to introduce a new plastic packaging tax from April 2022.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

The Guardian is reporting that a Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed that the Comprehensive Spending Review has been postponed “so that government remains focused on responding to the public health and economic emergency. Further details of when the comprehensive spending review will be held will be set out in due course.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated the four areas the government will be working on are: the Euro-Atlantic alliance, great power competition, global issues and homeland security. 

Questions

At Defence questions in March, Caroline Lucas asked the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps he plans to take to ensure that close work with the US on new warhead development is compatible with UK obligations under article 1 of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to transfer nuclear warheads or other nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly; and what recent estimate he has made of the (a) cost and (b) completion date of the proposed Trident warhead replacement programme.

The answer came from Jeremy Quin: “As we have previously stated, the replacement warhead is not required until at least the late 2030s, and the programme to deliver it will be subject to the Government’s major programme approvals and oversight. We are withholding specific information about cost and in-service dates for the purposes of safeguarding national security.”

Labour MP Tan Dhesi asked with reference to the Government’s announcement entitled, £500 million for Faslane, published in August 2015, what the objectives are of that upgrade; and what progress he has made on completing that upgrade.

 Again, Jeremy Quin responded:

The Clyde Infrastructure Programme was established in 2015 to coordinate the delivery of multiple infrastructure projects to build new or upgrade/update existing facilities within the geographically constrained sites in Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, while ensuring the Naval Base could concurrently support Continuous at Sea Deterrence.

There are currently fourteen active projects within the programme. The total programme value is estimated at £1.6 billion over fifteen years.

At Foreign Office Questions on the 3 March, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry asked what recent discussions the Foreign Secretary had had with his counterpart in the United States administration on the potential for a new nuclear deal with Iran.

James Cleverly responded saying, “We remain in close contact with the US at a number of levels. The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump on the 20 February and the Foreign Secretary met with Secretary Pompeo in London at the end of January, covering a range of bilateral issues.” He went on to say that “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains the best means available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  We remain committed to the deal as our E3 leaders reaffirmed unequivocally on the 12 January…”