Jeremy Corbyn says Labour could support building more Trident submarines but without nuclear missiles

The Labour leadership is attempting to reach an accomodation with trade unions on the policy of nuclear weapons

Jon Stone
Sunday 17 January 2016 13:45 GMT
A Trident nuclear submarine
A Trident nuclear submarine (Getty)

Labour could back the construction of new Trident submarines but not arm them with nuclear missiles, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The Labour leader suggested the compromise stance on Sunday in an apparent bid to secure the support of trade unions – who oppose the cancellation of Trident on the grounds that jobs could be lost.

The party’s leadership is opposed to building more nuclear weapons but will likely require the support of union votes at its party conference to make the stance official Labour policy.

“[The submarines] don’t have to have nuclear warheads on them,” Mr Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show.

“There are options there; the paper that Emily Thornberry put forward is a very interesting one, [it] deserves a very good study of it and read of it and I hope there will be a serious mature response.”

Mr Corbyn also stressed that he believed the UK had obligations not to build more nuclear weapons under international non-proliferation treaties it had signed.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell this morning stressed that all jobs involved in the production of Trident would be “guaranteed” whatever the approach taken.

Labour is currently undertaking a review of its defence policy. The party is currently split on the matter of nuclear weapons.

Estimates of the lifetime cost of renewing Trident run as high as £167bn, according to the Reuters news agency. Critics say the weapon cannot be used without killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,

Advocates of renewal say it supports thousands of jobs in the defence industry and that the the UK having nuclear weapons makes nuclear war less likely.

Union voices seemed initially receptive to discussion about the weapons system. Unite general secretary Len McLuskey restated his union’s support for Trident but said he was interested to hear other alternatives to be put forward as part of Labour’s review.

“We’ll play our part in that and it will be interested for us to hear their views, their options, their alternatives. So it’s a positive thing,” he said.

Others were less pleased. John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness, where the submarines would be built, said Sunday was "another day when Labour is distracted from being able to hold [the Government] to account".

During the course of a discussion about nuclear weapons, Mr Corbyn also said he did not believe that the Prime Minister David Cameron would in fact use the bombs in reality.

Mr Corbyn has previously said he would not use the weapons, while a spokesperson for Mr Cameron has said that he would.

The news comes after Mr Corbyn indicated to the Independent on Sunday newspaper that Labour MPs could be given a free vote on the renewal of Trident.

He has also hinted that Labour members could be balloted to determine the party's official policy.

The Labour party is broadly split on whether Trident renewal should occur. The party has supported Trident in recent years but previously backed disarmerment.

It supported the introduction of nuclear weapons in the 1940s, though it was also split on the matter at the time.

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