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Time to sink Trident now.

Byline: John Prescott

TO replace our Trident defence system is going to cost at least PS25billion.

Lib Dem Coalition ministers recently published a review to look at cheaper alternatives.

It showed that a smaller replacement for the present Trident submarine fleet would not be massively cheaper. According to the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, it would only save PS60million a year or PS1.5billion over 25 years.

Alternative nuclear options on land, ship or aircraft were also found to be less effective - and would actually cost more.

The Government claims that to keep a Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD), with at least one nuclear sub at sea 24 hours a day, we need four submarines. In the review, Lib Dem Danny Alexander argued we could reduce it to three.

The decision to replace Trident has to be made by 2020, although work on designs for the new subs is already underway and costing us many millions.

The question is whether we still need the round-the-clock deterrent brought in for the Cold War 60 years ago. These days Russia is more likely to cut off our gas supply than launch a nuclear attack.

Labour's defence spokesman Jim Murphy says it is current Labour policy to maintain CASD with four submarines. Ed Miliband says the party will debate this decision. Good. Let's start by defining the enemy.

Those who argue for it say the Trident fleet was a deterrent against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. They also argue that North Korea and Iran could be a threat because they have the bomb, although they seem to forget that Pakistan, India and Israel have it, too. Presumably, they are seen as the "goodies". I seem to remember Iraq was once seen that way, too.

Perhaps we should understand that North Korea and Iran have learnt that having nuclear weapons is actually about holding power and recognition in an international community and justifying it in the name of deterrence - or to stop the West attacking them.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty was designed when there were four nuclear nations who wanted to stop other countries getting the bomb. The challenge now is to reduce nuclear weapons. Britain could make a major step towards disarmament if we were to drop our commitment to having a CASD and not replace Trident.

My worry is that costs will continue to soar. Replacing aircraft carriers was meant to cost PS3.5billion but it has doubled to PS7billion.

Clearly, in this period of austerity, which will last until well after the next election, along with struggling economic growth, health, welfare and public services, we've got to set our priorities.

I believe we should be bold and take the lead.

Of course, the US won't like it but the Scottish Government would - they don't want Trident based in their country, as it is now.

So let's have a proper and informed debate, not one dominated by straw man defence priorities and lobbying from retired defence chiefs and political hawks.

The PS25billion cost of Trident is exactly the same amount as the projected black hole in NHS funding by 2020.

I say we scrap Trident for good, stop being the world's policeman and spend that money protecting the health of the nation.
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 28, 2013
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