THE announcement by the Government that it intends to increase the UK’s nuclear-weapons capacity has been swiftly condemned by church leaders from seven denominations.
In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, the leaders, including the Archbishops of Wales and York, describe the move as a retrograde step. “This announcement takes us in a worrying and wholly wrong direction.”
The Government’s decision is included in the policy paper Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, released on Tuesday morning.
Under an agreement made in 2010, the number of Trident warheads retained by the UK was to be 180. This is to be increased to 260, a 40-per-cent rise. Although the Opposition has supported the Trident programme, the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, said in the Commons on Tuesday: “This review breaks the goal of successive prime ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It doesn’t explain, when, why, or for what strategic purpose.”
The church leaders’ statement is signed by members of the Church of England, Church in Wales, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Methodist Church in Britain, Quakers in Britain, and the United Reformed Church. It was also signed on behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
The statement notes that the existing nuclear warheads were the equivalent of hundreds of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima. “It is immoral that the UK Government is committing resources, which could be spent on the common good of our society, to stockpiling even more.”
In a separate statement, the Rt Revd Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, called the decision “dangerous, irresponsible, and wrong. . .
“For Scotland, this decision is especially devastating. Since Trident warheads are held at Faslane, just 27 miles from Glasgow, it makes us a target and our country a very much less safe place. That has to be a concern for all Scottish people.
“At a time when poverty rates and foodbank use is going up, it is unconscionable to prioritise spending money on increasing our nuclear arsenal over the needs of the Scottish people.”
The Government’s policy paper refers briefly to the cut in the UK aid budget from 0.7 per cent of the Gross National Income to 0.5 per cent (News, 27 November 2020). It says that the percentage will be restored “when the fiscal situation allows”.
MPs from all parties were expected to attempt to defeat the move in a Commons vote, but the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that they would not be allowed a vote, since the drop was temporary.
Mr Johnson insisted: “We’ve had exceptional circumstances; we are entitled to vary that commitment, and that is what we are doing.”
The church leaders’ statement in full:
“The Government’s decision in the integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy to increase the number of Trident nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile by more than 40 per cent is a retrograde step that will not make any of us safer.
“Our Trident submarines already carry warheads that in total have an explosive yield equivalent to hundreds of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima. It is immoral that the UK government is committing resources, which could be spent on the common good of our society, to stockpiling even more.
“Over the last 50 years, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has restricted the increase in the number of nuclear weapons worldwide as well as the number of new nuclear-armed states. This announcement puts those gains in jeopardy and weakens collective action on non-proliferation. Progress on reducing the threat from nuclear weapons will come through dialogue, diplomacy and principled action. The Government’s announcement today will complicate rather than aid this process.
“The entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition in of Nuclear Weapons is an encouraging development. As people of faith, we join with millions across the world who are working towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals.
“Living up to our responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty would be a step towards realising that vision. We believe that ‘Global Britain’ should strive for peaceful and cooperative international relationships, and joint endeavour on climate change, global poverty and other challenges. This announcement takes us in a worrying and wholly wrong direction.”
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York
The Most Revd John Davies, Archbishop of Wales
The Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church
Bob Fyffe, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
The Rt Revd William Kenney, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, International Affairs Department, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
The Rt Revd Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton, Chair, International Affairs Department, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Church
The Revd David Mayne, Moderator of the Baptist Union Council
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
Dr Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids
The Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Church