Keir Starmer commits to UK's 'bedrock' nuclear deterrent

Policies to support the nuclear deterrent would see spending rise to 2.5% of GDP if Labour is elected in the next general election

Strengthening the UK's security and economic growth emerged as key themes in this year's election battle as Labour party leader Keir Starmer called Britain's nuclear deterrent the “bedrock” of his plan to keep the country safe.

Mr Starmer is proposing to use procurement to direct investment to British businesses in the defence sector as a priority.

His defence budget commitment for an incoming Labour-run UK government matches that of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, as the rise to 2.5 per cent of GDP will depend on whether it fits with the party's fiscal rules, Mr Starmer said.

He also promised to put in place a nuclear deterrent triple lock, if elected at the next general election.

In a “landmark” interview with the Daily Mail, the Labour leader said his party has changed, adding it is “utterly committed” to the nation’s defence and armed forces.

Mr Starmer continued: “Make no mistake, this is a generational, multi-decade commitment.

“Not only is this about defending our land and our Nato allies, it’s also defending our economy – prioritising British jobs, British skills and much-needed economic growth here on our shores.

“I want to see more home-grown involvement in the nuclear submarine supply chain – and our wider defence manufacturing. With Labour, the defence industry will be hard-wired into my national mission to drive economic growth across the UK.”

On Friday, Mr Starmer visited Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in Cumbria, which the party has said would build all four new Dreadnought nuclear submarines.

He is the first Labour leader to visit the shipyard in more than 30 years, and was due to speak to workers, union members and apprentices about increasing jobs and skills at the site and in the wider defence industry.

Defence first for Labour

Shadow defence minister John Healey and Australian High Commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith also attended.

Mr Starmer said: “The changed Labour party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total.

“In the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of Labour’s plan to keep Britain safe. It will ensure vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high-paying jobs across the UK.

“Countless families in Barrow and across Britain have built a secure future over decades of hard work building our defences. I want that to continue for the decades to come.

“That’s why we are fully backing Aukus submarines to be built in Barrow, too. And it’s why Labour will ensure that new UK leadership within Aukus helps make this national endeavour a success for Britain.”

Submarine future

The new submarines will replace the current ones in the early 2030s and carry an estimated cost of £31 billion.

The Labour Party has gone through major changes in terms of its stance on defence, with Mr Starmer's predecessor Mr Corbyn being the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard told Times Radio: “You can’t go through the beating that we had in 2019 – the poorest election result for the Labour party since 1935 – and not listen to what the electorate told us.”

He continued: “I know just how important defence is to communities and how much they need to have a Labour party on side.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps branded the shipyard visit an “attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal”. The Labour deputy leader is facing a police investigation over the sale of her former council home.

Defence spending 'grotesque'

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Meanwhile, the SNP has branded Mr Starmer's defence spending proposals “grotesque” and accused Labour of throwing billions of pounds down the drain.

In March, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited BAE Systems Submarines in Barrow with the Chancellor, after declaring a “critical national endeavour” to secure the nuclear industry’s future.

Mr Shapps said Labour is “not the party to be trusted with our nation’s defences”.

He added: “This is just another attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal. If Sir Keir Starmer cannot show leadership on this issue, how can he be trusted to make decision on national security.”

Conservatives and Labour 'offer meaningless talk'

SNP defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes said: “Westminster has already wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on nuclear weapons and expensive nuclear energy.

“It is therefore grotesque that Sir Keir Starmer is prepared to throw billions more down the drain when his party claim there is no money to improve our NHS, help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future.

“This money would be better spent on a raft of other things – not least investing in the green energy gold rush, which would ensure Scotland, with all its renewable energy potential, could be a green energy powerhouse of the 21st century.”

Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey said both the Conservatives and Labour “only offer meaningless talk” and claimed his party is the only one committed to reversing defence cuts.

Defence union Prospect said all parties should match the 2.5 per cent defence pledge.

General Secretary Mike Clancy said: “We have a world-leading workforce in the defence sector, which delivers jobs and growth for communities up and down the country.

“By committing that more of this money will be spent in the UK, we support both our armed forces and this vital workforce, and we hope all parties will match this pledge.”

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Updated: April 12, 2024, 1:38 PM