Labour's new left flexes its muscles

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The Independent Online
Labour's new left has broken cover for the first time with a hard- hitting call on the Government to "negotiate away" Britain's nuclear weapons, ditch Nato expansion and scrap the Eurofighter project.

The call, in a submission to the Government's defence review, has been backed by 30 left-wing MPs, including 14 new members elected in May.

In language reminiscent of the heyday of Labour unilateralism, the MPs question the need for 24-hour patrolling by Trident submarines and argue that Britain's pounds 15bn involvement in the Eurofighter is unnecessary.

The call is a direct challenge to George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, who made clear when he set up the review in May that he considered both Trident and the Eurofighter as central to the nation's defence.

And the involvement of so many new MPs was being seen by Tories last night as the first sign that a left-wing rump managed to get into the House of Commons at the election despite the best efforts of the Blairites.

A senior government source insisted last night: "We are committed to strong British defence. These are battles of the past."

But Sir George Young, the shadow Defence Secretary, said: "This is very bad news for Tony Blair because it shows dissent is breaking out in Labour's ranks.

"We have always said that everything under review is under threat. Certainly these demands will give comfort to those in the Treasury wanting to cut the defence budget."

The submission was signed by most of the left's established parliamentarians, including Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbott. Among the new MPs are Ann and John Cryer, Tony McNulty and Phil Sawford.

It calls for "an examination of whether it is still essential to Britain's security to maintain Trident on 24-hour patrol or whether it is better to halt that ... and remove the warheads to safe, secure storage ashore".

Proposing a cut in the number of Trident warheads from three per missile to one, it adds: "A positive contribution towards nuclear disarmament by Britain is not to increase our nuclear capability but to decrease it and eventually negotiate it away."

On Nato, the MPs call for an immediate halt to Britain's involvement in its expansion pending a full Commons debate.

One of its main proposals is the abolition of export credit guarantees, by which the Government underwrites sales of arms abroad.

"These guarantees funded the sales of arms to Saddam Hussein," said Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South. "He reneged on payments so that, several years later, we had the ludicrous spectacle of British troops in the Gulf facing British weapons paid for by the British taxpayer.

"If arms companies want to sell their products, they should take the same risks as other companies and not have their business underwritten by the taxpayers. If they want insurance, they should get it at Lloyd's."

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