MPs overwhelmingly back Trident renewal after bitter debate

May says she would not hesitate to launch a strike that could kill hundreds of thousands

 

The House of Commons has voted to renew the Trident weapons system, by a margin of 472 to 117, a majority of 355.

138 Labour MPs—more than half—supported the government’s motion, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition.

In her first parliamentary address as prime minister, Theresa May took a tough stance.

When asked by the SNP’s George Keravan if she would be willing to launch a strike that could ‘kill a hundred thousand innocent men, women and children’ she scarcely paused before answering ‘yes’.

“I have to say to the honourable gentleman the whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it, unlike some suggestions that we could have a deterrent but not actually be willing to use it, which seem to come from the Labour party front bench.”

May also provoked anger when she said, in response to a question from Green MP Caroline Lucas, that critics of Trudent are ‘often the first to defend the country’s enemies.’

The house was strangely configured throughout this debate, with the Labour back benches expressing repeated support for the Tory front bench, while the Labour front bench exchanged support with the SNP.

Jeremy Corbyn took as hard a line as the prime minister, firmly expressing his ideological opposition to Trident despite heckling and frequent critical interjections from his own MPs.

Responding to May’s enthusiastic commitment to, if necessary, launching a strike that could cause mass deaths, Corbyn reiterated that he would not resort to the nuclear option as prime minister.

“I make it clear today I would not take a decision that kills millions of innocent people. I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to deal with international relations.”

While the SNP and Tories should high levels of unity on opposite sides of the debate, the Labour benches were embarrassingly divided, prompting Crispin Blunt — the only Tory to vote against renewal — to observe that ‘the truth is that this is a political weapon, aimed rather effectively at the Labour Party’.

In one of the most vicious critiques of the front bench, Labour’s John Woodcock told the house:

“For the official opposition to have a free vote on a matter of such strategic importance is a terrible indictment of how far this once great party has fallen.

What Labour’s current front bench are doing is not principled. It shows contempt for the public, for party members and often for the truth.”

The divisions spread across the opposition benches. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas spoke and voted against renewal, the DUP and UUP voted in favour, and the SDLP voted against.

Plaid Cymru also oppose renewal, as do Scottish Labour.

A CND Stop Trident demonstration was organised on Parliament Square during the debate, with a small number of protesters reportedly making their way into the central lobby of the Houses of Parliament.

 

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