Jeremy Corbyn has reaffirmed his pledge to scrap Britain's Trident missile system at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in London – despite frustration from members within his own party.
The Labour leader was the last of more than 20 speakers, including the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, senior union members and actress Vanessa Redgrave, to address the large crowd.
"I don't want us to replace Trident, everyone knows that, many of the British public don't want to replace Trident," he said in the emotive speech.
Addressing a crowd of campaigners in Trafalgar Square, he added: “I think we should just consider for a moment what a nuclear weapon actually is. It is a weapon of mass destruction. If ever used it can only kill large numbers of civilians.
"They’ve only once been used in war and that was in Japan in 1945 and we still see the consequences, the cancers, the destruction and the horror of very old people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
The Labour leader continued: “If a nuclear war took place there would be mass destruction on both sides of the conflict...Everyone should think about the humanitarian effects on people across this globe if they're ever used.
"We live in a world where so many things are possible. Where peace is possible in so many places. You don't achieve peace by planning for war, grabbing resources and not respecting each other's human rights. Today's demonstration is an expression of many people's opinions and views. I'm here because I believe in a nuclear-free Britain and a nuclear-free future.
"Thank you for coming to this demonstration, thank you for showing that you care and thank you showing you want a peaceful future for this country and the rest of the world."
The 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. Last year the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock – who ended the party’s commitment to unilateral disarmament in 1989 – warned that voters would not back a party that attempts to axe Britain’s nuclear programme.
Mr Corbyn has also come under fire from internal critics over his close links with CND, which recently appointed him to the post of vice-president. He used the speech, however, to praise the CND for their “crucial role” in society in standing up for human rights. He added: “I first joined the CND when I was 16-years-old and I’m still a member only a short time later.”
Speaking to The Independent last week one shadow Cabinet minister said: “Everyone knows there’s a division of opinion on Trident, there’s no disguising that. But it’s a shame if Jeremy chooses to advertise it when we should be focusing on everyday issues and taking an active party in the EU referendum.”
The Labour MP John Woodcock added: “At a time when we’ve already been plunged into unnecessary, inward-looking turmoil on this issue, choosing to speak at this demonstration on an issue which Labour cannot change would seem like a terribly divisive act.
“I just hope, even at this late stage, that Jeremy and those around him recognise what many people are saying – a lot of whom are anti-Trident – that Labour should be concentrating on holding the government to account on all the things hurting families now.”
Michael Dugher, who was sacked from Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet last month, said: "I've nothing against old friends getting together at the weekend for a nice walk.
"But for Jeremy to share a platform with many of Labour’s political opponents and denounce what is still Labour Party policy is quite frankly barmy."
Support from party leaders showed there was a “mainstream party consensus on Trident and nuclear weapons” was forming, said Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the CND.
Speaking before Mr Corbyn, the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, said to the crowd in Trafalgar square: “Let’s cut £167 billion by not renewing the Trident system. There is the moral argument, there is the practical argument, there is the financial argument and I would so much rather see those billions of pounds spent on conventional forces – on health, on education, on giving our children the best start in life.”
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