Labour leader Keir Starmer says he'll keep the UK's nuclear weapons in 'age of insecurity'

AP , Monday 3 Jun 2024

British opposition leader Keir Starmer pledged Monday to keep the UK’s nuclear weapons, seeking to dispel criticisms that his center-left Labour Party is soft on defense.

Britain s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and and shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey walk, during a visit to the Fusilier Museum, Bury in Greater Manchester, England. AP


Starmer is the current favorite to win Britain’s July 4 election and become prime minister. His campaign is centered on his claim to have transformed the party since he replaced Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime opponent of nuclear weapons and critic of NATO, as Labour leader in 2020.

Starmer, 61, told voters they can trust Labour to safeguard the country’s economy, borders and security — trying to overturn a perception that Labour is weaker on security and more profligate with taxpayers’ money, than Prime Minister Rishi Suank's center-right Conservatives.

“My commitment to the nuclear deterrent is absolute,” Starmer said Monday during a campaign appearance at a military museum in Bury, northwest England.

“Nobody who aspires to be prime minister would set out the circumstances in which it would be used. That would be irresponsible, but it is there as part of a vital part of our defense, so of course we would have to be prepared to use it,” he said.

Britain has been a nuclear power since the 1950s, and both Labour and Conservative governments have consistently supported atomic weapons. Since the 1990s, Britain’s nuclear deterrent has consisted of four Royal Navy submarines armed with Trident missiles.

Starmer said a Labour government would build the four new nuclear submarines that the Conservatives have already committed to. He criticized the Conservatives for defense spending cuts that had given the U.K. “the smallest army since the time of Napoleon,” the French leader who fought Britain 200 years ago.

He said the world had entered “a new age of insecurity” and “national security is the most important issue of our times.”

The schism between pro- and anti-nuclear forces was long a fault-line in the Labour Party. It was Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s Labour government that developed atomic weapons in the years following World War II, making Britain the world’s third nuclear-armed state after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Starmer said his entire top team shared his commitment to the nuclear arsenal, even though several members, including deputy leader Angela Rayner and foreign affairs spokesman David Lammy, voted against renewing Trident in 2016.

He also pledged that a Labour government would increase defense spending to 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product, though he has not set a deadline. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says his Conservatives will meet the target by 2030.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said Starmer had delivered “another empty speech.”

“By refusing to commit to 2.5% defense spending by 2030 he has been unable to show the clear and bold leadership this country needs in uncertain times,” Shapps said.

The Conservatives, who have been in office for 14 years, are trying to overcome a widespread sense that voters want change. On July 4 voters across the U.K. will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons. The leader of the party that can command a Commons majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister.

Short link: