Considerations for Parliament’s Main Gate decision in 2016


HMS Vigilant - Trident - Nuclear Weapons - Medact - Nuclear Disarmament - Health Through PeaceMedact’s Anti-Trident replacement leaflet and commentaries

The attached documents describe Medact’s response to the Main gate debate held about Trident Replacement in the UK House of Commons on 18 July 2016. The text of the leaflet was prepared and widely distributed in the days running up to the debate. The following commentary, which referred to specific points made in the text of the leaflet, was completed on 26th July.

The full motion, proposed by the Prime Minister, was:

“That this House supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK’s security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK’s national security and way of life and that of the UK’s allies; supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines; recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs; notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme; recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.

After nearly six hours of debate, the House resolved in favour by 472 votes to 117.

In spite of the overwhelming majority, Medact still argues in favour of non-replacement of Trident – and indeed advocates that, in order to fulfil its ‘good faith’ obligation to the NPT to pursue negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date the UK should start proceeding to complete nuclear disarmament now.

We feel that it is important to post these comments as there is no reason to conclude that Trident replacement is a ‘done deal’.  The cost grounds alone will have to be clarified, and the deep implications of the more recent revelations of very significant threat to Trident’s ‘stealth’ qualities by the prospect of packs of under-water drones  connected by ‘Big Data processing’ will undoubtedly need to be revisited.

Among the materials prepared by several bodies in the run-up to the debate, we have taken special note of the ‘interim report’ by Labour’s Backbench Defence Committee, co-chaired by John Woodcock MP and Baroness Christine Crawley.

Medact Leaflet: The Replacement of UK’s Trident

Comments on the ‘interim’ report for the Labour Party (June 2016)

Read the report here: Trident Renewal Vote: Separating Fact from Fiction

This was prepared by Labour’s Backbench Defence Committee, chaired by chaired by John Woodcock MP and Baroness Christine Crawley,

Medact’s overall assessment of this ‘interim’ report is that although it makes a detailed and well-presented analysis of current security risks, its interpretation is selective.  For example, sections 2.48 and

2.49, on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, states The key article under dispute is Article VI which is worth quoting in full:

“2.48  Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control

“2.49  It is abundantly evident that the scenario envisioned under the terms of the NPT is a negotiated multilateral treaty, not a duty to unilaterally disarm.  There is also explicitly no expectation in the NPT that disarmament should occur within a specific time-frame.”

We do not share what appears to be ‘abundantly evident’ to the interim reporters. We perceive that 46 years after the NPT came into force there have been no ‘effective measures’ to cease the arms race ‘at an early date’. Instead, multilateral enhancement of the arms race is occurring right now, with ‘modernization’ and the development of new weapons and new missiles.  This is in breach of the NPT to which the UK is party. Furthermore, the first phrase of ‘2.48’ is ‘Each of the parties’ – implying an individual as well as a collective responsibility. The UK is in a good position to demonstrate its ‘good faith’ by not renewing Trident.

‘Specific time-frame’. Originally it was hoped that substantial implementation of the NPT would be achieved by 1995.  At the NPT Review Conference that year (a year of real hope with the abolition of Apartheid and the rise of a new Russia after the fall of the Soviets), and in spite of strong representations by ‘non-aligned’ nations such as South Africa, it was agreed without a vote (NPT negotiations work by consensus) to give the NPT a permanent life-time extension.  The current and increasingly dangerous situation has arisen because the nuclear-weapons-possessing States have been under no time constraints to comply with their ‘good faith’ obligations to the NPT.

In summary, whereas we acknowledge the expertise exhibited in the Interim Report, we disagree with its conclusion, not least – because along with the HoC motion of 18 July – the prospects for a global amelioration of the nuclear arms race are made to recede at an increasingly alarming rate, making the world in the short and long term even more unsafe.  This state of international and global insecurity will persist and get worse while nuclear weapons exist, and although not mentioned in the accompanying text, will be even further aggravated by the effects of global climate change. It is particularly important, therefore, for leaders in global society, such as the UK, to address these major threats by advocating and conducting appropriate actions – the elimination of nuclear weapons and the amelioration of the increasingly apparent effects of global climate change.

Frank Boulton, on behalf of Medact’s Nuclear Weapons Group. 26th July 2016.

To learn more about our response to Trident renewal, please click here