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Devonport MP: David Cameron right on Trident

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: April 04, 2013

Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport

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The Westcountry MP whose constituency includes Britain's only nuclear submarine yard has welcomed David Cameron's warning against abandoning the Trident deterrent in the face of the growing nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran.

The Prime Minister said it would be "foolish" to leave the country defenceless at a time when the "highly unpredictable and aggressive" regime in North Korea was developing ballistic missiles which could eventually threaten Europe.

His comments put him on collision course with the Liberal Democrats, who are pushing for a cheaper alternative to the ageing fleet of submarines.

Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth – the biggest private sector employer in Devon and Cornwall – has refitted nuclear-armed submarines for decades.

Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said the Prime Minister was "quite right".

He added: "At a time when North Korea is threatening to use its nuclear weapon, now is not the time to go back on a like-for-like replacement for Trident, and we have to bear in what could happen in Iran.

"In Plymouth and the surrounding area 25,000 employees depend on nuclear. We have the nuclear licence and people need to understand if we got rid of Trident it's jeopardising 25,000 livelihoods."

The Plymouth yard boasts the only UK licence to refit, repair and refuel submarines that carry the Trident missile. But anti-nuclear campaigners have long been alarmed by their proximity to a large city.

Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, a ministerial aide and former defence spokesman for the party, said a like-for-like replacement was misguided.

He said: "It's clear that we need to maintain effective defence forces but the world has changed hugely since the end of the Cold War and, at this time of economic difficulty, spending £100 billion on a new Cold War-era weapons system may not be the way to do that. 

"The Conservative and Labour parties don't seem to recognise that Trident is a weapon system we can barely afford and is designed for a world that doesn't exist anymore. I'm looking forward to the Government's alternatives review reporting later this year to see what effective and cheaper alternatives there may be."

The Prime Minister's remarks came as the United States said it was moving an advanced missile system to the Pacific island of Guam as Pyongyang continued to ratchet up the rhetoric against South Korea and its American ally.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron said such "evolving threats" underlined the need for the UK to maintain the ultimate deterrent.

"We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British government embarked on it over six decades ago. Of course, the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But the nuclear threat has not gone away," he said.

"In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased."

Mr Cameron said Iran was continuing to defy the will of the international community over its nuclear programme while North Korea may already be building a nuclear arsenal.

His comments underline the Conservatives' commitment to a like-for-like replacement for the ageing Trident submarine fleet while their Liberal Democrat coalition partners are seeking a cheaper alternative.

The future of Trident is also likely to feature in next year's looming Scottish independence referendum campaign, with the SNP insisting that it would not allow nuclear missiles to be based in an independent Scotland.

For Labour, shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said it was "absolutely right and necessary" for the UK to retain an independent nuclear deterrent, but it must take into account the costs involved.

"World events demonstrate that in an unpredictable era our country needs the ultimate security guarantee," he said.

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