» Monday, December 4, 2006


Asked when the official tender would be issued to build the next generation of submarines, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) explained that an initial discussion period would be followed by a vote early next year. Put to him that foreign shipyards might win these contracts, he said that while the Prime Minister had given a strong indication the Government hoped the new submarines would be built in this country, clearly the contracts would have to be put out to tender.

Asked whether there were any specific security threats that had informed the Prime Minister’s decision, the PMOS outlined the international context to the decision – including the potential and unknowable threat from states developing the capacity to produce nuclear weaponry, such as Iran and North Korea, rogue states who could develop nuclear weaponry, and terrorists who might get their hands on this technology. It was in this context that we needed to ask whether this was the right time to give up Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

Put that we ought to simply rely on the US for protection, the PMOS stressed that it has been the policy of successive governments since Winston Churchill that the UK should have an independent deterrent, and there were no guarantees that any future threat would also pose a threat to the US.

Asked whether this decision meant the UK ceded any moral high ground when attempting to discourage other countries from developing a nuclear deterrent, the PMOS replied that there was neither any evidence that other countries were making these judgements based on whether or not the UK has a deterrent, nor any sign that those countries that already have nuclear weaponry have any intention of giving it up.

In response to several questions about the Cabinet process that preceded today’s announcement, the PMOS explained that after an initial Cabinet meeting that provided the context for the decision, the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and the Defence Secretary Des Browne had held a series of individual meetings with Cabinet Ministers in which they discussed in detail the options moving forward. Today’s Cabinet discussion lasted an hour, and – in the absence of any dissenting voices around the table – a formal decision was taken to move forward on the basis outlined to Parliament this afternoon.

In response to a series of questions about the timing of developing the next generation of submarines, the PMOS made clear that to maintain our current levels of deterrent the UK must have at least three – possibly four – nuclear-enabled submarines. Currently we have four, but one of these is due to go out of service by 2022, and a second by 2024. So by 2024, we must have our next generation of submarines in place in order to have an independent deterrent available all the time.

Government experts have estimated it will take 17years to take the next generation of submarines from concept and design stages through to being fully operational. It is on that basis that this decision has to be made now.

Asked by ITN about why it would take as long as 17years, the PMOS explained that this was taken directly from advice given by the Government’s experts. Put that the first generation Trident technology took only 14years to develop, the PMOS pointed out that that timeframe had not included the relevant design stage and that technology this time round would be significantly more sophisticated.

The PMOS confirmed the first new submarine would be operational by 2024, and will have a 20-25year lifetime. The PMOS stated that a later decision is to be made following completion of the design stage about whether we need three or four submarines to maintain our deterrent.

Asked about the need to renew the missile technology carried by the submarines, the PMOS said that the lifetime of existing missiles could be extended to 2040. After that, the UK have agreed with the US that a decision will be made in consultation on what comes next, ensuring that any new missile technology will be compatible with our submarines.

The PMOS pointed out that, if today’s proposed cuts in warheads are agreed, since this Government came to power it will have almost halved the number of UK warheads. He also explained that we are the only country that relies on a single nuclear deterrent system. Other countries have a mixture of land, air, submarine and ship-based deterrents. However, this Government believes it is right to have only the minimum deterrent that we need. This was justified not only on the basis of cost, but also on the basis that the land, air and ship-based deterrents were all more vulnerable to attack.

Asked about the costs of the new generation of submarine technology, the PMOS confirmed that the predicted figure was £15-20bn overall for design and manufacture of submarines and refurbishment/replacement of warheads.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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