UK Election Results Protect Trident

June 2015

By Jefferson Morley

The victory of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party in the United Kingdom’s May 8 parliamentary election will protect the country’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent from disarmament advocates hoping to curb or eliminate it, analysts say.

The Conservatives, committed to modernizing the country’s nuclear force, won an absolute majority of the 650-seat House of Commons, meaning Cameron’s government will not have to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democratic party. Liberal Democrats, who lost 49 seats, have called for scaling back the proposed replacement of the four Vanguard-class subs, which are armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines are also sometimes called Tridents.)

The Labour Party lost 24 seats, crushing leader Ed Miliband’s hopes of coming to power in coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP, committed to nuclear disarmament, gained 50 seats, but will have no role in the ­government.

Parliament will make a final decision on modernizing the Vanguard-class fleet in 2016, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

“The issues of contention may be how many boats are to be replaced,” said John MacDonald, director of the Scottish Global Forum and a nuclear disarmament advocate, in a May 20 e-mail. While Conservatives are committed to a “like-for-like replacement,” in which four new submarines would replace the current four, Labour officials “have been making noises” about replacing the current fleet with three or perhaps two submarines, he said.

“The SNP will not be able to impact the Vanguard replacement decision,” MacDonald said.

Andrea Berger, analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said in a May 21 e-mail that the new Conservative majority government “makes it a near certainty that the UK will move forward with a new class of [nuclear-armed submarine], consisting of four boats, to be deployed continuously at-sea.” At the same time, she said, SNP electoral gains “make it likely that the government will find it difficult to take that decision without at least a yelling match.”