Jeremy Corbyn was harshly criticised during Friday’s BBC Question Time, Leaders Special after he expressed his unwillingness to use nuclear weapons first to defend Britain.
He said: “The reality is that we have, obviously, to protect ourselves. We will not use it as first use and, if we did use it, millions are going to die.”
The leader of the Labour Party is known for being a longstanding opponent to the use of nuclear weapons. However, following his cabinet’s decision, he stressed earlier in May that his party is committed to the renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons deterrent.
Their manifesto says: “Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. As a nuclear-armed power, our country has a responsibility to fulfil our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Although Corbyn had no choice but to endorse his party’s decision on Trident, he said he does not back it. This makes the concept of nuclear deterrence “voided”, according to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.
After the leaders’ debate, The Daily Telegraph reported Johnson saying in the spin room: “This was a guy [Corbyn] who was saying to the world that if it came to nuclear blackmail whether from Iran or North Korea, Jeremy Corbyn would be vulnerable to that blackmail because he would never press the trigger himself.”
Although the UK is one of the signatory states of the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), it is acceptable and legal for the UK to maintain a nuclear deterrent.
This is the reason why MPs voted in May for the replacement of the Trident programme,whose submarines have an estimated life of 30 to 40 years, in July 2016. Their renewal, which has been suggested by the Ministry of Defence, will cost the UK an estimated £205bn.
In order to reduce the cost of replacement and lessen the weight of Britain’s deterrence, the Liberal Democrats proposed to have three submarines carrying the nuclear component, instead of the government’s decision to have four.
The Liberal Democrats are concerned with reducing Britain’s nuclear influence, along with keeping a minimum level of deterrence.
As they answer in an FAQ on their campaign website: “Our policy would end continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD), meaning that the UK’s submarines would patrol at irregular intervals, rather than constantly being on the seas as they are now.”
This mild approach does not resemble Theresa May’s full-on commitment to nuclear weapons, of which she is an advocate.
She is now pushing for four submarines and, even before she took on David Cameron’s role, she expressed her commitment to nuclear weapons in an opinion piece in the Daily Mail.
She said: “It would be sheer madness to contemplate even for a moment giving up Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.”
In fact, in its manifesto, the Conservative party pledged to maintain the Trident CASD. They also would consider a “first use” of the nuclear weapon, as Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said during BBC Radio Four’s Today programme recently.
Instead, the Green Party is committed to cancelling Trident. As they point out in their manifesto, cancelling Trident would save at least £110 billion over the next 30 years. This money, they say, would directly flow into the NHS.
The SNP also condemned the renewal of the Trident, and would rather see the £205bn spent in healthcare, childcare, and education.