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Press Release: Open Letter to the Prime Minister on Trident Replacement Debate

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Tim Street
15 July 2016

Oxford Research Group has today sent a letter to the new Prime Minister, signed by former military commanders, senior academic, diplomatic and political figures and other leading NGOs, calling on her to delay any decision on replacing the UK’s nuclear weapons system until after parliament’s summer recess. This is necessary so that government, parliament and the country can consider the economic, political and strategic impact that the EU referendum vote will have on the planned new Successor nuclear weapons programme, which would probably be the government’s most expensive investment project.



A group including former military commanders, former Defence Secretary Lord Des Browne and former UK Permanent Representative at the United Nations Sir Jeremy Greenstock, have today sent an open letter to the Prime Minister urging her to delay any decision on replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system. Rather than making a final decision following parliament’s debate and vote on the nuclear question on Monday 18th July, the letter proposes that the Prime Minister leave the decision open to review until after the summer recess.

The letter argues that following the vote to leave the European Union, time must be spent assessing the UK’s changed economic, political and strategic position in order to make a responsible decision on what would probably be the most expensive government investment project. The falling value of sterling, a possible UK economic recession, the heightened potential for Scottish independence leading to the removal of nuclear submarines from Scotland, and the rising costs of the planned Successor nuclear weapons programme, strongly suggest that government and parliament must carefully review the costs and risks of the UK building a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines.

Richard Reeve, Co-ordinator of Oxford Research Group, said:

‘The new Prime Minister does not need to take a decision on Trident replacement now. Following the vote to leave the EU the country is in a state of political flux. The most prudent and responsible course of action would be to allow government, parliament and the nation to have the time and space to assess the consequences of the referendum vote so that there can be a considered debate on the UK’s nuclear future’.

‘It is now crucial that the government, before construction of the Successor mega-project has begun, carefully considers both the case for cancellation and more responsible and sustainable policy options. These options should include disarmament which is a commitment the UK has made under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.’


Spokespeople available:

Richard Reeve, Co-ordinator, Oxford Research Group, Email:

Tim Street, Senior Programme Officer, Oxford Research Group, Email:

For more information/interviews, please call Oxford Research Group: 0207 549 0298

Open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Whilst we welcome parliament having the opportunity to review the costly and consequential Successor nuclear weapons programme, rather than taking the final decision on Trident replacement on 18th July, we urge you to keep it open to review after the summer recess. This is necessary so that government, parliament and the country can have appropriate opportunity to assess the United Kingdom’s changed strategic position following the vote to leave the European Union, particularly concerning the future costs of Successor. Moreover, given that there has not been a substantial parliamentary debate on the nuclear question for almost a decade, MPs must be able to explore the key issues in a considered and thorough way.

In the immediate term there are very clear financial pressures on Britain’s currency, economy and budget. The depreciation of sterling will place major pressure on projected defence procurement and maintenance budgets, including the Successor programme. Weaker growth and an anticipated economic contraction will also likely undermine budgetary plans and overall defence spending commitments over the medium term. Given the upward trajectory of planned spending on Successor, and ongoing uncertainties in the programme’s costs, a revised Major Equipment Plan and Strategic Defence and Security Review is necessary to locate and justify spending on—and consider alternatives to—what would probably be the most expensive government investment project.

The revived debate over the future status of Scotland within the UK casts further uncertainty over the viability and financial costs of the UK remaining a nuclear weapon state given its reliance on a submarine-launched nuclear weapon system. It would be unwise at this time to make a multi-billion pound commitment to a weapons system tied to basing infrastructure that may be located outside of the national territory before the Successor submarines are commissioned. Relocation from the Clyde would, at best, incur additional multi-billion pound costs. At the minimum, it would be prudent to await Edinburgh’s formal response to the invocation of Article 50, should that be your Government’s chosen course.

While we appreciate that there is significant pressure from industry and some trade unions for an early sign-off on the full submarine procurement process, we do not believe that a reasonable delay will materially affect the UK’s ability to deliver Successor should parliament vote for it. Indeed, given current questions over technical, industrial and managerial capacity, a revised delivery timeline may be inevitable.

The country is currently in a state of significant political flux. Under the circumstances, a properly scheduled and informed debate on Successor is the necessary and responsible course of action. To rush through a final decision at this juncture would undermine the legitimacy of the decision-making process on such an important issue.

Yours sincerely,

General (Retd) Sir Hugh Beach

Lord Des Browne of Ladyton, former Secretary of State for Defence

Major General (Retd) Patrick Cordingley

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN

Paul Ingram, Executive Director, BASIC

Andreas Persbo, Executive Director, VERTIC

Lord Martin Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal

Richard Reeve, Coordinator, Oxford Research Group

Dr Nick Ritchie, University of York

Professor Paul Rogers

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director, United Nations Association-UK

Lord Stewart Wood of Anfield, Chair, United Nations Association-UK

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

About the Author

Tim Street is Senior Programme Officer on the Sustainable Security programme at ORG and has worked for many years on the politics of nuclear disarmament and the arms trade. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.

Copyright Oxford Research Group 2016.

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