Nuclear spat: Osborne doesn’t trust MoD to deliver Trident replacement on time
Chancellor George Osborne wants to take responsibility for Trident renewal away from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and delegate it to a new body that reports directly to the Treasury amid concerns the nuclear weapons project could be delayed.
Osborne has sent an ultimatum to Prime Minister David Cameron, saying he will only earmark £40 billion (US$60.8 billion) to pay for the next generation of submarines to carry Trident nuclear missiles if the project is taken away from the MoD.
The chancellor is concerned the MoD, which has a poor procurement track record, will not have the Trident submarines ready by 2028, the year when the existing Vanguard submarines must be decommissioned.
The Treasury’s latest stance is a signal of Osborne’s increasing power within Whitehall, as he seeks to take more control away from government departments.
It comes amid continued controversy over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Trident stance, a position which provoked Britain’s head of the armed forces to suggest Corbyn is not fit to be prime minister.
The government is expected to officially announce a new body to oversee the replacement of Trident submarines later this month. It will be modeled on the organizations that delivered the Olympics and Crossrail projects in London.
Osborne wants BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce – two British arms companies involved in building the new generation of submarines – to stick to a 10-year timetable of delivering the submarines by 2028.
Treasury officials are understood to have little faith in the MoD sticking to the schedule, given the department’s notorious record of delayed projects and overspending.
Sources within the MoD told the Times that Osborne’s challenge was causing “palpitations” within the department.
“This is causing palpitations inside the Ministry of Defence. But in many ways it is hard to argue against since the track record inside MoD is awful. [Michael] Fallon [the defense secretary] is pretty relaxed about this.”
A defense industry source said the MoD is resistant to change.
“That is the tug of war going on between Osborne [and the MoD]. Everyone in defense wants to keep it inside defense. Anything that is novel and different is perceived as a threat.”
A government spokesperson refused to comment on the leaked news.
“While we are not prepared to comment on the contents of a leaked document, the government remains committed to maintaining a continuous at-sea deterrent, and to replacing the current Vanguard class of nuclear armed submarines with four Successor submarines.”
The astronomical cost of Trident, which critics suggest could rack up a final bill of £100 billion, means the chancellor is keen to see it delivered on schedule.
Rear Admiral John Gower commented on Thursday about the extreme difficulty of building Trident submarines.
“You have to fit, within a steel tube capable of silently surviving at great depth, the nuclear reactor and the propulsion and power generation trains, complex electrical, water, high pressure air and hydraulic systems,” he told the Times.
“On top of that you have weapon systems, both tactical and strategic, electronics, computers and the sensors and sonars. After all of that, you must squeeze in people and the facilities for them to live for months at a time.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire from Tories and factions within his own party for vocally opposing Trident renewal and saying he would never order a nuclear strike if he became Prime Minister.
In an open letter to Corbyn, a former commander of British nuclear weapons expressed support for his anti-Trident stance and debunked common arguments in defense of nukes.
Commander Robert Green, a retired Royal Navy officer, said nuclear weapons are “militarily irrational and not credible.”