Labour agreement on Trident 'impossible' says Andy Burnham

Written by Josh May and Sebastian Whale on 9 February 2016 in News

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham says Labour splits over Trident will be “impossible” to reconcile

Labour splits over Trident will be “impossible” to reconcile, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham has said after the internal row over the nuclear deterrent flared up again.

Last night Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry came under fire at a bad-tempered meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party from pro-Trident colleagues when she suggested new technologies could make the submarine system obsolete like Spitfire planes.

Ms Thornberry is leading the party’s review into defence policy, including its stance on Trident. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backs unilateral nuclear disarmament, a position supported by the Scottish party in November. 


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But Mr Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary and a supporter of renewing Trident, has said no compromise option would be acceptable to both wings.

“We always knew this was going to be a difficult debate for the party, there are two positions here that are difficult to reconcile, maybe impossible to reconcile, and the party has got to find some way of accommodating those positions and move forward,” he told the Today programme.

“There’s some hybrid options are being put forward, but I think most people have found that they just don’t work. So, the discussion has been in the party about can you realistically try and find a sort of halfway house. And most people have concluded that you can’t...

“I think it’s impossible.”

Ms Thornberry, however, insisted it was not a “binary” choice between Trident renewal and unilateral disarmament, insisting technological advances could leave the stealth capabilities of the submarines compromised.

Speaking to the Today programme, she said: “The idea of the Trident replacement is that it can hide in the sea. If technology is moving faster than that then it may well be that Trident will not be able to hide. And if that’s right, then if we are to bet everything on mutually assured destruction, we have to be assured that it is going to work. And if it can’t hide anymore, that is a problem.”

In a reflection of the depth of the disagreement, Lord West, the former head of the Navy and a minister in Gordon Brown’s government, called in to Radio 4 to label Ms Thornberry’s claims “nonsense”.

The UK Government has indicated the so-called ‘main-gate’ vote to build successor submarines could be held before the Commons breaks up for Easter recess.

There has been speculation that Labour could abstain from the vote – something Ms Thornberry failed to rule out this morning.

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