MoD starts purchasing Trident replacement without parliamentary OK - get your MP to act!

Posted by andrelotz — 18 March 2011 at 3:22pm - Comments
While cuts are being made to public services, why is money being spent on weapon
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
While cuts are being made to public services, why is money being spent on weapons we neither want or need?

At the mention of nuclear today our thoughts turn to the situation in Japan and all of those affected by the earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear emergency. I can only hope that the situation at Fukushima is soon contained and the risks minimised for everyone affected.

Here in the UK, there is another nuclear issue that is silently inching forward without parliamentary approval or public awareness – nuclear weapons replacement.

Last October, we were all told that the decision to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system had been put on hold. According to the Lib Dems and the coalition’s recent defence review, the decision to replace the submarines that carry UK’s Trident nuclear weapons has been delayed until 2016. This means that the next government is supposed to make the decision on replacing our nukes.

But, in reality, the first purchases of equipment for replacing Trident are already being made, casting major doubts on the promised two to four-year delay on the final decision.

Through a Freedom of Information request we’ve learned that the MoD plans to purchase what they call 'long-lead' items, like submarine hulls, propulsion systems, and various other parts of the combat systems. The first of these purchases - buying the steel for the hulls - may be authorised by the MoD in the next weeks. In short, this is such a shopping list that there'll be little left unspent on the Trident-wielding submarines by the time decisions are made in 2016.

In response, Greenpeace have sent a briefing to all UK MPs to inform them that it seems Trident are going ahead without their approval. Soon after, MPs acted, putting down a parliamentary early day motion (EDM 1477 – Trident Submarine Proposals) to protest this premature purchase of steel and to insist on more insight before the UK government are financially tied in to the purchase - just like the debacle with the aircraft carriers.

These MoD vanity projects are the last thing this country needs when we’re losing vital public services to spending cuts. So we urge you to please write to your MP and ask them to support the early day motion and condemn this premature purchase of steel before a formal decision has been made to replace Trident.

Please ask your local MP to sign EDM 1477 – Trident Submarine Proposals

  1. You can find out who your MP is, and how to contact them, by entering your postcode at
  2. Then check to see if they’ve already signed EDM 1477. If so, please do email them anyway to thank them; if not please do ask them to sign.
  3. Look at your MP’s personal website to find out how best to contact them. If in doubt please send a letter to them c/o House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA

Some points you can make in your letter:

  • Ask them to sign Early Day Motion 1477 – Trident Submarine Proposals. EDM’s serve as a valuable tool for MPs who want to foster debate and show government and their public where they stand on key issues. This EDM will stand as a rallying point for MPs who expect more oversight and debate about Trident before the money is spent.
  • Even though the defence review delayed the decision on Trident replacement until 2016, it looks as if most of the first subs are already being paid for by the MoD. 
  • These purchases, like the purchase for steel, require more parliamentary oversight, as we don’t want to be financially tied into replacing Trident, as we were with the aircraft carriers
  • There has been a lack of transparency on Trident and the only recent review on it, the Value for Money Review, has been suppressed by the MoD. While many of us are paying the price for deep cuts, the government must answer why we need Trident and how much it’s going to cost.
  • The MoD’s inability to ensure value for money is legend. 
  • This was recently highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee that reported this “cycle of failure” was continuing under the coalition government. And true to form, the MoD’s poor accounting has been proven once again with the defence review allowing another £4bn in funding gaps 
  • Tell your MP how you personally feel about Britain renewing their nuclear weapon system.

Finally, please ask your MP for a reply to your letter, and when you do receive their response please post it as a comment on this blog post.

And if you'd like to help Greenpeace challenge the Trident renewal process in future, join our peace and disarmament group.

Oops, sorry about all the borked links. Should be fixed now.

Hi Rokesmith, Thanks for that. Tristram Hunt is of course right that there is a Main Gate decision point, but he’s wrong if one should rest assured by Peter Luff’s dismissive statement. Recently If you’d like to write back, you could perhaps point out the following:

The Conservative-led Government have said on a number of occassions that Trident replacement is going ahead, no matter what. This is not the stance of a government that's open to different views. Liam Fox recently contradicted the Strategic Defence and Security Review (which said the number of subs between 3 and 4 would still be decided) by stating that we need 4 subs. 

The pending “Initial Gate” decision point does not give the Government the authority to begin construction of the submarines, it only gives authority for an “Assessment Phase”. These long lead items are for entire hulls, propulsion systems, practically the construction of a whole sub. Katy Clark MP also points out that the decision made in 2007 does not give the Government the right to go ahead with the purchases for the long-lead items:

The 2016 decision stands to be heavily influenced by the masses of money they will spend during this next “Assessment Phase” and what they have already spent (almost £1bn in the “Concept Phase”, exceeding its original budget). Furthermore, the MoD has a terrible track-record of keeping any project to cost, or on time, resulting in debacles like the aircraft carriers and Nimrod. And in this case there is a severe lack of transparency, necessitating more Parliamentary scrutiny.

The last point that you may mention is that even though he may believe in nuclear weapons, he does have a duty to do whatever he can to ensure that Parliamentary oversight is protected, and that this EDM seeks to ensure this.

Best, Andre

Hi Nathaniel,

Let me try and see if I can take your question. Let me first just say that the way I see it, nuclear weapons were not even useful during the Cold War. Their so-called deterrent ability didn’t help nuclear weapon states in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Falklands War, Russia/Afghanistan War, etc, etc. They didn’t help because the other side (the sides without nukes) knew they wouldn’t get used. Their massive destructive capacity makes them useless. They are only useful if one wants to destroy a city full of innocents, which isn’t much of a solution.

But to your question, the reason people call them Cold War weapons, is because their existence is synonymous with that period. As for me, they are THE first thing that comes to my mind when I think of that era. And I must disagree with you; weapons do become obsolete with time. In the recent SDSR (and the PM’s speech) they stated that they wanted to do away with Cold War tactics and equipment, referring in part to tanks for instance, which have become less useful in modern conflicts. These days the focus is on well-trained troops. In 2010 there were four ex-generals that called on the government to scrap Trident replacement because they were Cold War weapons and that Britain needed funding for conventional military forces. I’d personally like to see them focus that spending on development, conflict prevention and “human security”.

One other reason why they can be called Cold War weapons (and nothing else) is because the government has yet to actually give them a strategic review. The last time their strategic benefits were actually reviewed was during the Cold War. In fact I've read that these things are still targeted at Russia, because no credible target has emerged in over 20 years. The last SDSR only reviewed them for their value for money, which was heavily criticised by MPs, including Ed Miliband. I accept that you may not accept my views on nukes and I may not accept yours, but the government doesn’t even have a legitimate view until they commission a proper study. They’re just committed to these things and they want to spend £100 billion on them. That’s what we know. For me, I’d like a nice, thorough, independently verified study on the things...


Hey Nathaniel,

Sorry I didn’t get back to you, I actually kind of thought I had answered your question and that we'd leave it there. But let me make my points more clearly.

You asked: (a) “My question to anyone willing to answer me is this: what difference does it make when a weapon was developed or what its historical use was?”

Then you pointed out that, “...a continuing rhetoric is that nuclear arms are 'cold war weapons' and thereofre have no use in the modern world, the argument being that as the cold war is over we should get rid of these weapons.” Then you asked (b) “If someone could explain the continual use of that rhetoric...”

So to answer (a): equipment and tactics do become obsolete and strategy does change with time. This is why a weapon’s historical use and purpose is important. I’m sure there are loads of historical examples, but let me refer you to the government’s stance on this:

- In the recent National Security Strategy document they point out that Cold War threats were different from those we face today, and they list the four current (Tier 1) threats as chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) threats by terrorists, cyber attacks, and international crisis and major accidents/natural hazards. Here’s a link:

- The Strategic Defence and Security Review also argues that we require new strategies and equipment in this post-Cold War era:

To answer “b”: the reason people argue that nuclear weapons are more suited for the Cold War (if they ever were), is that the need for nuclear weapons can change with time, just like any other piece of equipment or strategy. This is more than just rhetoric; it’s a pretty valid argument (especially seeing as the “value” of deterrence is theoretical, unlike tanks or fighter-planes). The letter from the four generals that I mentioned previously argue that the justifications for Trident have eroded since 2007, let alone the Cold War:

And if the government is not willing to review our need for nuclear weapons under our current strategic needs (as they do with every other type of military equipment), then people are quite justified to call them unfit for purpose, “Cold War weapons” or whatever. The government needs to put its money where its mouth is and justify its strategies and expenditures. (especially one as massive as this). And also seeing as nuclear weapons do not address any of the “Tier 1” threats that the government put forward in the NSS (in fact our possession of nukes probably increases two of those risks). The refusal to do so (in my mind at least) is criminal.

But anyway, I know you and I agree on the need for a review. And I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but one promising development is that BASIC have set up a cross-party commission to study the decision to renew Trident, and their findings will be interesting to track:

Best, Andre

reply from John Glen Tory MP for Salisbury.  no surprise on stance!


Thanks for another one of your emails - this time re Trident. I think you are under a misunderstanding about Government policy. Government is pushing ahead with Trident but the 'main gate' decision has been postponed to 2015.

Other parties may campaign on the issue and interpret the policy to suit their perspectives on the issue and I am sure you will support them. If they win in 2015 they may chose not to go through the main gate but the vast majority of the c. 360 MPs in the current governing coalition want to press ahead and that is what we are doing up to main gate. So I don't accept the premise behind your objection but I note it nevertheless.

With best regards


About Andre

For six months over '10 and '11 I worked as an intern and then a researcher on the Cut Trident campaign. It was an awesome time at Greenpeace, and I monitored the issue, tried to understand the muddle of MoD spending to figure out exactly how much Trident replacement is going to cost us and thought of new ways to get the government to put away their silly Cold War

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