Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has spoken out against renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent, denouncing its huge cost at a time of social benefit cuts.
The renewal of the submarine-launched missile system called Trident was agreed in 2007 and is due by 2024 — at a cost of around $30 billion.
Clegg, who spoke out against renewing the system while in opposition, said there was no reason for him to change his mind now that he is in government.
Trident is a “kind of technology and hardware that we acquired as a country in the past, in an era of Cold War conflict,” he said at a town-hall event in London. “I think the priority within the defense budget should be absolutely to make sure that our brave troops, our brave servicemen and servicewomen, particularly now on the front line in Afghanistan, have what they need.”
He added that it was hard to justify spending $30 billion on a nuclear missile system while social benefits are cut because of budget pressures.
“It’s going to be difficult for someone who is going to receive less housing benefit because of the changes we are introducing to understand why, at the same time, we should spend huge, huge amounts of money in a hurry on replacing Trident in full,” Clegg said.
It’s no surprise that the LibDems and the Conservatives face off on defense spending.
While the Conservatives have accused Gordon Brown’s Labor government of underfunding the armed forces, the Liberal Democrats not only voted against the Iraq war, they want to further downsize the military budget.
Trident has been a contentious issue in the coalition. While the Conservatives in their campaign supported the full renewal of Trident, the Liberal Democrats said they want a cheaper way to defend Britain.
Defense Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor George Osborne have also clashed over the funding for Trident.
Critics argue the decision to renew Trident was rushed through Parliament to help BAE Systems, the British company that builds the submarines.
Clegg said the decision to decide about Trident should not only be about money, but also about the changing realities of Britain’s role in the global military structure.
“The world has changed,” he said. “That needs to be reflected.”