Oral statement to Parliament
PM Commons statement on future of Trident: 18 July 2016
Prime Minister Theresa May made a statement in the House of Commons as part of the vote on the future of the Trident programme.
Mr Speaker, I beg to move the motion on the order paper in my name and those of my Rt Hon Friends.
Mr Speaker, obviously the Home Secretary has just made a statement about the incident in Nice and I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those killed and injured in last Thursday’s utterly horrifying attack in Nice.
Innocent victims, brutally murdered by terrorists who resent the freedoms that we treasure and want nothing more than to destroy our way of life.
And this latest attack in France, compounding the tragedies of the Paris attacks in January and November last year, is another grave reminder of the growing threats that Britain and all our allies face from terrorism.
On Friday I spoke with President Hollande and assured him that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the French people, as we have done so often in the past.
We will never be cowed by terror. Though the battle against terrorism may be long, these terrorists will be defeated. And the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité will prevail.
Mr Speaker, I should also note the serious events over the weekend in Turkey. We have firmly condemned the attempted coup by certain members of the Turkish military, which began on Friday evening.
Britain stands firmly in support of Turkey’s democratically elected government and institutions. We call for the full observance of Turkey’s constitutional order and stress the importance of the rule of law prevailing in the wake of this failed coup. Everything must be done to avoid further violence, to protect lives and to restore calm.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office has worked around the clock to provide help and advice to the many thousands of British nationals on holiday or working in Turkey at this time and my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Turkish foreign minister, and I expect to speak to President Erdogan shortly.
Mr Speaker, before I turn to our nuclear deterrent, I am sure the House will welcome the news that Japan’s Softbank Group intend to acquire UK tech firm ARM Holdings. I have spoken to Softbank directly. They have confirmed their commitment to keep the company in Cambridge - and to invest further to double the number of UK jobs over 5 years.
This £24 billion investment would be the largest ever Asian investment in the UK. It is a clear demonstration that Britain is open for business, as attractive to international investment as ever.
Mr Speaker, there is no greater responsibility as Prime Minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people. That is why I have made it my first duty in this House to move today’s motion so we can get on with the job of renewing an essential part of our national security for generations to come.
For almost half a century, every hour of every day, our Royal Navy nuclear submarines have been patrolling the oceans – unseen and undetected, fully armed and fully ready, our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack. Our submariners endure months away from their families, often without any contact with their loved ones, training relentlessly for a duty they hope never to carry out.
And I hope, Mr Speaker, that whatever our views on the deterrent, we can today agree on one thing: that our country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all our submariners and their families for the sacrifices they make in keeping us safe.
As a former Home Secretary I am familiar with the threats facing our country. In my last post, I was responsible for counter-terrorism for over 6 years. I received daily operational intelligence briefings about the threats to our national security, and I chaired a weekly security meeting with representatives of all the country’s security and intelligence agencies, military and police - and I received personal briefings from the Director-General of MI5.
For over 6 years as Home Secretary I was focused on the decisions needed to keep our people safe. And that remains my first priority as Prime Minister.
The threats we face are serious and it is vital for our national interest that we have the full spectrum of our defences at full strength to meet them. That is why, under my leadership, this government will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence.
We will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe – and we will continue to invest in all the capabilities set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review last year.
We will meet the growing terrorist threat coming from Daesh in Syria and Iraq, from Boko Haram in Nigeria, from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Shabab in East Africa and other terrorist groups planning activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
And we will continue to invest in new capabilities to counter threats that do not recognise national borders – including by remaining a world leader in cyber security.
But Mr Speaker, none of this means there will be no threat from nuclear states in the coming decades. As I will set out for the House today, the threats from countries like Russia and North Korea remain very real. And as our Strategic Defence and Security Review made clear there is a continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
We must continually convince any potential aggressors that the benefits of an attack on Britain are far outweighed by their consequences. And we cannot afford to relax our guard or rule out further shifts which would put our country in grave danger.
We need to be prepared to deter threats to our lives and our livelihoods and those of generations who are yet to be born.
Mr Speaker, I know there are a number of serious and very important questions at the heart of this debate. And I want to address them all this afternoon.
First, in light of the evolving nature of the threats we face, is a nuclear deterrent really still necessary and essential?
Second, is the cost of our deterrent too great?
Third, is building four submarines the right way of maintaining our deterrent?
Fourth, could we not rely on our nuclear-armed allies like America and France to provide our deterrent instead?
Fifth, do we not have a moral duty to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, rather than maintaining our own deterrent?
I will take each of these questions in turn.
Is a nuclear deterrent really necessary and essential?
Mr Speaker, I want to set out for the House why our nuclear deterrent remains as necessary and essential today as it was when we first established it.
The nuclear threat has not gone away. If anything, it has increased.
First, there is the threat from existing nuclear states like Russia. We know that President Putin is upgrading his nuclear forces. In the last 2 years there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises.
As we have seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no question about President Putin’s willingness to undermine the rules based international system in order to advance his own interests. And he has already threatened to base nuclear forces in the Crimea and in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea that neighbours Poland and Lithuania.
Second, there is the threat from countries that wish to acquire nuclear capabilities illegally. North Korea has stated a clear intent to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon – and it continues to work towards that goal, in flagrant violation of a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
It is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century – carrying out its fourth test this year – as well as a space launch that used ballistic missile technology. It also claims to be attempting to develop a submarine launch capability and to have withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Mr Speaker, based on the advice I have received, we believe that North Korea could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It also has a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach America – and which is potentially intended for nuclear delivery.
And there is of course the danger that North Korea might share its technology or its weapons with other countries or other organisations who wish to do us harm.
Third, there is the question of future nuclear threats that we cannot even anticipate today. Let me be clear why this matters.
Once nuclear weapons have been given up it is almost impossible to get them back – and the process of creating a new deterrent takes many decades. You could not redevelop a deterrent fast enough to respond to a new and unforeseen nuclear threat.
So the decision on whether to renew our nuclear deterrent hinges not just on the threats we face today – but also on an assessment of what the world could be like over the coming decades.
It is impossible to say for certain that no such extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life. And it would be an act of gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future.
So with the existing fleet of Vanguard submarines beginning to leave service by the early 2030s – and with the time it takes to build and test new submarines - we need to take the decision to replace them now.
Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is not just essential for our own national security, it is also vital for the future security of our NATO allies.
Britain is going to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. And we will not leave our European and NATO allies behind.
Being recognised as one of the 5 Nuclear Weapon States under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also confers unique responsibilities – as many of the nations that signed the Treaty in the 1960s did so on the understanding that they were protected by NATO’s nuclear umbrella, including the UK deterrent.
Abandoning our deterrent would not only undermine our own future security – but also that of our allies too. That is not something that I am prepared to do.
Is the cost too great?
I want to move onto the issue of costs now.
Of course no credible deterrent is cheap. And it is estimated that the 4 new submarines will cost £31 billion to build, with an additional contingency of £10 billion. But with the acquisition cost spread over 35 years, this is effectively an insurance premium of 0.2% of total annual Government spending.
That is 20 pence in every £100 for a capability that will protect our people though to the 2060s and beyond.
And I am very clear: our national security is worth every penny.
There is also a significant economic benefit to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. Our nuclear defence industry makes a major contribution to our defence industrial base – supporting more than 30 thousand jobs across the United Kingdom and benefitting hundreds of suppliers across more than 350 constituencies.
While the skills required in this industry, whether in engineering or design will keep our nation at the cutting edge for years to come. I pay tribute to all those people who work in this industry and by their contribution help to keep us safe.
The decision we are making in this House today will also specifically increase the number of jobs in Scotland. HMS Naval Base Clyde is already one of the largest employment sites in Scotland, sustaining around 6,800 military and civilian jobs, as well as having a wider impact on the local economy.
And as the base becomes home to all Royal Navy Submarines the number of people employed there is set to increase to 8,200 by 2022.
So Mr Speaker, if Hon Members vote against today’s motion, they will be voting against those jobs. That is why the Unite union said that defending and securing the jobs of tens of thousands of defence workers involved in the Successor submarine programme is its priority.
Is building 4 submarines the right way forward?
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the specific question of whether building 4 submarines is the right approach. And whether there could be cheaper and more effective ways of providing a similar effect to the Trident system.
The facts here are very clear. A review of alternatives to Trident in 2013 found that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost-effective as a Trident-based deterrent.
Submarines are less vulnerable to attack than aircraft, ships or silos. And they can maintain a continuous around-the- clock cover in a way that aircraft cannot; while alternative delivery systems, such as cruise missiles do not have the same reach or capability.
Furthermore, we do not believe that submarines will be rendered obsolete by unmanned underwater vehicles or cyber techniques, as some have suggested. Indeed Admiral Lord Boyce, the former First Sea Lord and submarine commander has said that we are more likely to put a man on Mars within 6 months than make the seas transparent within 30 years.
And with submarines operating in isolation when deployed, it is hard to think of a system less susceptible to cyber attack.
And other nations think the same. That’s why America, Russia, China and France all continue to spend tens of billions on their own submarine-based weapons.
Delivering Britain’s Continuous At Sea Deterrence also means that we need all 4 submarines to ensure that one is always on patrol, taking account of the cycle of deployment, training, and routine and unplanned maintenance.
Three submarines cannot provide resilience against unplanned refits or breaks in serviceability. Nor can they actually deliver the cost savings that some suggest they would – since large fixed costs for infrastructure, training and maintenance are not reduced by any attempt to cut from 4 submarines to 3.
So Mr Speaker, it is right to replace our current 4 Vanguard submarines with 4 successors. I will not seek false economies with the security of the nation. And I am not prepared to settle for something that does not do the job.
Could we not rely on allies like America and France?
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the issue of whether we could simply rely on other nuclear armed allies like America and France to provide our deterrent.
The first question is how would America and France react if we suddenly announced that we were abandoning our nuclear capabilities but still expecting them to put their cities at risk to protect us in a nuclear crisis? That is hardly standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
At last month’s NATO summit in Warsaw, our allies made clear that by maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent alongside America and France, we provide NATO with 3 separate centres of decision-making. This complicates the calculations of potential adversaries and prevents them threatening the UK or our allies with impunity.
Withdrawing from this arrangement would weaken us now and in the future, undermine NATO and embolden our adversaries.
It might also allow potential adversaries to gamble that one day the US or France might not put itself at risk in order to deter an attack on the UK.
Mr Speaker we must send an unequivocal message to any adversary that the cost of an attack on our United Kingdom or our allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain through such an attack. Only the retention of our own independent deterrent can do this.
This government will never endanger the security of our people. And we will never hide behind the protection provided by others while claiming the mistaken virtue of unilateral disarmament.
Do we not have a moral duty to lead nuclear disarmament?
Now, let me turn to the question of our moral duty to lead nuclear disarmament.
Stopping nuclear weapons being used globally is not achieved by giving them up unilaterally. It is achieved by working towards a multi-lateral process. That process is important and Britain could not be doing more to support this vital work.
Britain is committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We play a leading role on disarmament verification together with Norway and America.
And we will continue to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty – and for successful negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
Furthermore, we are committed to retaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor.
We have cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since their Cold War peak in the late 1970s. Last year we delivered on our commitment to reduce the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40.
We will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads and we will further reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the middle of the next decade.
But Britain has approximately 1% of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world.
For us to disarm unilaterally would not significantly change the calculations of other nuclear states – nor those seeking to acquire such weapons.
To disarm unilaterally would not make us safer. Nor would it make the use of nuclear weapons less likely. In fact it would have the opposite effect. Because it would remove the deterrent that for 60 years has helped to stop others from using nuclear weapons against us.
Mr Speaker, our national interest is clear. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is an insurance policy we simply cannot do without.
We cannot compromise on our national security. We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we shoulder for keeping our people safe.
And we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism. That would be a reckless gamble: a gamble that would enfeeble our allies and embolden our enemies.
A gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.
Mr Speaker, we have waited long enough. It is time to get on with building the next generation of our nuclear deterrent.
It is time to take this essential decision to deter the most extreme threats to our society and preserve our way of life for generations to come.
And I commend this motion to the House.