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Trident: Majority of Britons back keeping nuclear weapons programme, poll shows

Exclusive: Survey reveals lower public support for Jeremy Corbyn's plan to keep subs without warheads

Andrew Grice
Sunday 24 January 2016 21:03 GMT
HMS Vigilant, one of Britain’s four Trident nuclear missile-armed submarines, at its Faslane base in Scotland
HMS Vigilant, one of Britain’s four Trident nuclear missile-armed submarines, at its Faslane base in Scotland (Getty)

A narrow majority of the public supports the Government’s proposal to fully renew Britain's Trident nuclear weapons programme, according to a poll for The Independent.

A smaller proportion, three out of 10 (29 per cent), support the plan floated by Jeremy Corbyn to keep the submarines but to send them to sea without warheads.

A further 20 per cent oppose any form of Trident renewal, according to the survey of 2,000 people by ORB.

This means that Britain is split down the middle on whether to retain nuclear weapons. Some 51 per cent of people back full renewal of Trident, while a total of 49 per cent prefer either non-nuclear submarines or reject any renewal.

Mr Corbyn, a long-standing opponent of nuclear weapons, has said he would never press the nuclear button and hopes a Labour will will change the party’s policy of supporting renewal. But Johnny Heald, managing director of ORB International, said the survey suggested that support for full Trident renewal may have grown since last year following the rise of Isis and an increase in the security threat in Britain.

Opposition to full renewal is highest in Scotland, the home of the Trident fleet. Some 38 per cent of Scots oppose any form of renewal, while 36 per cent back full renewal and 26 per cent favour non-nuclear submarines.

People who voted SNP at last year’s general election are more likely to oppose any form of Trident renewal (60 per cent) than supporters of other parties. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, dismissed Mr Corbyn’s plan for non-nuclear Trident submarines as “ridiculous” and a sign of Labour’s "tortured debates” on the issue.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she challenged Mr Corbyn to “stamp his authority” on his party and whip his MPs to vote against Trident when the Commons decides shortly whether to keep it. She said his plan to give his MPs a free vote would leave his party “without a shred of credibility.”

One in four 2015 Labour voters (24 per cent) rejects any form of Trident renewal, while the others are equally divided between full renewal and the Corbyn alternative of non-nuclear submarines (both 38 per cent). So the Labour leader’s middle way, which would preserve the jobs that depend on the Trident programme, is more popular with his party’s supporters than outright opposition, which may encourage him to press ahead with the compromise plan.

There is strong backing for a full Trident upgrade among Conservative voters, 77 per cent of whom back the proposal while only 6 per cent oppose any renewal. A majority who voted Liberal Democrat last year (53 per cent) also back full renewal.

ORB found that men (59 per cent) are more likely to favour full renewal of Trident than women (43 per cent). Women are more receptive to Mr Corbyn’s alternative (37 per cent) than men (21 per cent). There is also a big age divide, with those aged 65 and over (66 per cent) twice as likely to back a full Trident upgrade than 18-24 year-olds (33 per cent).

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