David Cameron told the Conservative Party conference in his set-piece leader's speech today
“My first duty as Prime Minister is to keep people safe. Our belief in strong defence and sound money. ..In government, I have a team who keep us safe at home and abroad……Justine Greening, Michael Fallon, Philip Hammond and Theresa May. and because our independent nuclear deterrent is our ultimate insurance policy – this Government will order four new trident submarines.”
Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times, instantly tweeted “This may be the easiest speech any leader has made in 50 years. Standing ovations for supporting nuclear deterrence…”
The prime minister’s pro-Trident comments followed the equally robust backing given to nuclear weapons by defence secretary Michael Fallon, who made a typical red-meat rant to the swivel-eyed Tory faithful “representatives” on Sunday (4 October) in Manchester
Having played the Tories-are-the true-patriots card for starters, he turned to Labour’s equivocation over Trident (leader against; most MPs for), highlighting:
“Efficiency savings mean we will be able to spend more on cyber, more on unmanned aircraft, more on the latest technology, keeping ahead of our adversaries. Labour’s approach couldn’t be more different – or more dangerous. How did they respond to their election defeat? By electing a leader who would weaken our national security – who would scrap Trident, leave NATO, and can’t think of circumstances in which he would use our Armed Forces. This is no time for Britain to retreat from the world, to let terror triumph, or to put our people in peril.”
“The biggest investment decision this Parliament will have to take is to replace the ballistic missile submarines that provide our nuclear deterrent.
For 46 years our deterrent has been deployed every hour of every day. Anyone thinking of ending this unbroken patrol has to be absolutely certain that no nuclear threats will emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s. I’m not prepared to take that gamble so we will ask MPs of all parties to put national security first and support building four new ballistic missile submarines.
And we won’t let any coalition of left-wing Labour MPs and the SNP stop us.”
More emolliently, foreign secretary Philip Hammond's said in his own speech to Conservative conference also on Sunday:
“We now have a Labour Party which poses a serious risk to our national security…while we are renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent, he wants to scrap it…Standing up to Russia because our security depends on upholding international law and punishing those who breach it.” (https://www.politicshome.com/foreign-and-defence/articles/news/philip-hammonds-speech-conservative-conference)
Indeed, on Sunday morning’s Marr programme on BBC 1, Mr Cameron told viewers If you ... believe like me that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified.” Cameron observed “If you give any other answer then you are, frankly, undermining our national security, undermining our deterrent.”
Cameron’s statement followed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s unequivocal pledge he would not use nuclear weapons: “I don’t think we should be spending £100bn on renewing Trident. That is a quarter of our defence budget,” he sensibly said, adding in his interview last week on the BBC radio four Today Programme“, 187 countries don't feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect their security, why should those five need it themselves? We are not in the era of the Cold War any more."
He stressed: "I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons. I want to see a nuclear-free world. I believe it is possible."
But the British public would never understand from these apparently diametrically opposite views that Corbyn and Cameron – and his defence and foreign secretaries - actually agree on the importance of nuclear disarmament.
Eight months ago, Mr Hammond foreign office mandarins hosted a two day high-level meeting at its London conference venue, Lancaster House, of senior diplomatic representatives of the other four members of the self-appointed nuclear weapons club on the United Nations Security Council, the so-called Permanent Five (P5).
This brought to London Wang Qun, Director General, Department of Arms Control and Disarmament for China; Hélène Duchêne, Director for Strategic Affairs for France; Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security for the United States; and Grigory Berdennikov, Ambassador-at-Large for Russia, to meet with the FCO’s top disarmament diplomat, Peter Jones, Director for Defence and International Security.
Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood told MPs at the time:: “The London P5 Conference covered a wide range of issues relevant to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, encompassing disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
After their meeting on 6 February the P5 diplomats issued a joint statement through the Foreign Office (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-from-the-nuclear-weapon-states-at-the-london-p5-conference), stressing, in a very interesting passage, considering it is co-signed by Russia: “At their 2015 Conference the P5 restated their belief that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains the essential cornerstone for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and is an essential contribution to international security and stability.”
It then added: “The P5 reaffirmed that a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament that promotes international stability, peace and undiminished and increased security for all remains the only realistic and practical route to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”
Barely weeks before, Mr Fallon had told MPs in a Parliamentary debate on Trident: “we also share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament.”
(Hansard, 20 January 2015, column 105 www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150120/debtext/150120-0002.htm)
You would scarcely believe it from the red-blooded rants at the Tory conference this week