When Nick Harvey was sacked in September’s reshuffle, leaving the Ministry of Defence without a Liberal Democrat minister, anti-nuclear campaigners and the SNP claimed the move put the future of the review into alternatives to the current Trident nuclear deterrent in doubt. To underline the review’s security, the party announced at the start of its autumn conference two weeks later that Danny Alexander would lead it instead.
But though the review may be continuing, it appears rather insecure in one crucial respect, which is whether anyone will actually pay it the blindest bit of attention. Today Philip Hammond announced a further £350 million of funding for the design of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines. Running a review on alternatives when the government is funding the development of the current choice does appear a bit like leaving the Lib Dems to play a game of Water, Gas, Electricity, and hoping it will keen them busy for the next few years. But Nick Clegg today shot down suggestions that the review was redundant. He said:
‘Having seen the papers this morning, I think some people are jumping the gun on this Trident decision. The coalition agreement is crystal clear – it will not be changed, it will not be undermined, it will not be contradicted. The final decision on Trident replacement will not be taken until 2016, however much other people may not like it that way.’
Downing Street said this morning that the government remained committed to an ‘at-sea nuclear deterrent’, with a spokeswoman adding:
‘What the Liberal Democrats are reviewing here are any other ways of providing that deterrent at a lower cost. We are progressing on design and development work. A decision on construction won’t be taken until 2016.’
Whether or not the Lib Dems are being kept busy on a puzzle the Conservatives are already blithely ignoring, today’s announcement does have an impact on a cause both coalition parties are united on. Philip Hammond has announced the funding on a trip to Scotland, and the £350 million will sustain 1,200 jobs, while warning Alex Salmond that it is ‘irresponsible to play games’ with the nuclear deterrent. Lib Dem peer Lord Lee pointed this out on the World at One today, saying:
Tags: Defence, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Philip Hammond, Scottish independence, Trident, UK politics
‘Today’s announcement is very much geared to the Scottish independence situation. But the money that has been announced today by Philip Hammond in fact is part of the original £3 billion initial gate decision, so really it’s no big deal, as it were, nothing major has changed as a result of today’s decision.’