Ken Livingstone has branded claims by the US Defence Secretary that Britain must keep the Trident nuclear deterrent to maintain its “outsized” role in the world as “rubbish”.
Speaking to the Independent, the former London Mayor and co-convener of Labour’s defence review, said building the Trident submarines “which we will never use” at the expense of the armed forces will leave the UK more vulnerable to the threat of terrorism.
Mr Livingstone added: “The question is though, by the time they are operational in 15 years China and Russia will have underwater drones all over the world. Submarines are very noisy – they will be traceable. The original idea that you had a submarine and no one knew where it was had a lot of logic to it. But that’s not the world we will be living in.”
His comments follow the US Defence Secretary Ash Carter’s intervention that Trident enabled Britain to maintain its “outsized” role on the global stage.
Secretary Carter told the BBC: “It’s important that the military power matches that standing and so we’re very supportive of it…we depend upon the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom depends on us, that’s part of the special relationship. We build Joint Strike fighters together, we build Trident missiles together.”
Asked about the comments Mr Livingstone responded: “Well, it’s just rubbish. The major power in Europe is Germany which doesn’t have nuclear weapons. It’s risen to being effectively the leader of Europe because it has invested properly in its manufacturing base. Ours is nine per cent of our economy, theirs is 20-21 per cent, which is crucial for your exports.
He added: “America’s dominance of the twentieth century wasn’t because they had nuclear weapons it was because they had the largest economy in the world. At the end of the Second World War 48 per cent of the global economy was in the hands of America.
“The question is at a time when people are facing the most savage reduction in the size of our welfare state and the public services. Should we be spending what looks like £41 billion now just to build four submarines which we will never use at the time when the government’s agreed to cut the size of our armies from a 102,000 down to 82,000. That will leave us much more vulnerable to the real threats we face which are increasing all over the world in terms of terrorism.
Renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent has sparked a fierce debate within the Labour party. The party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn favours unilateral disarmament yet other members of his shadow cabinet are outspoken advocates. Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader who ended the party’s commitment to unilateral disarmament in 1989, said at the end of last year that voters would not back a party that tries to axe the nuclear programme.
“There are a lot of MPs saying they want to keep Trident,” added Livingstone, “but when you’re chatting to them privately the only reason they want to keep it is because they think it’s electorally damaging. There aren’t many Labour MPs who get turned on at the thought of being able to kill tens of millions of people.”
The former London Mayor’s role on Labour’s National Executive Committee led him to co-convene the party’s defence review. The Trident review, he adds, is being by Emily Thornberry.
“My role hasn’t changed at all. When Jeremy set up the [defence] committee it was me and Maria Eagle then it was me and Emily Thornberry. Now it’s me and the other lovely Hilary Benn.
“Me and Emily had a lunch just after her appointment and at the end of it I said ‘well look in an hour and a half we haven’t disagreed about anything there’s no point the two of us doing this so I think you should lead on the question of Trident and defence and that report will then come up to the foreign affairs and defence review under me and Hilary’”.