Clegg slaps down Defence Secretary over Trident pledge
A political row is brewing over a new generation of British nuclear armed submarines which will secure hundreds of jobs in the Westcountry.
Defence secretary Philip Hammond yesterday announced an additional £350million worth of funding for the Trident defence system.
The plans have major implications for Devonport in Plymouth, which is the UK's only base with the specialist facilities and skilled workforce needed to maintain the current and future submarine fleet.
However, hot on the heels of the announcement, tensions within the coalition government rose.
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Nick Clegg accused his cabinet colleague of "jumping the gun" on Trident.
The Deputy Prime Minister dismissed suggestions that the extra allocation of funding announced for designing a replacement deterrent "made clear" the Government's commitment to maintaining the system.
Mr Clegg insisted the coalition agreement will not be "undermined or contradicted" and the Liberal Democrats' review into alternatives will continue.
He said: "Having seen the papers this morning, I think some people are jumping the gun on this Trident decision.
"The coalition agreement is crystal clear – it will not be changed, it will not be undermined, it will not be contradicted.
"The final decision on Trident replacement will not be taken until 2016, however much other people may not like it that way."
Mr Hammond made the announcement on a visit to the home of the UK's nuclear deterrent at Faslane on the River Clyde in Scotland.
The cash was already earmarked as part of the design stage but the "maingate" decision is not due to be taken until 2016.
The Liberal Democrats are understood to be unhappy that the latest stage is being used to indicate that a replacement will go ahead regardless of any recommendations that come out of a review.
That review is due to report back at the end of the year. Mr Clegg added: "The idea of a like-for-like entirely unchanged replacement of Trident is basically saying we will spend billions and billions and billions of pounds on a nuclear missile system designed with the sole strategic purpose of flattening Moscow at the press of a button."
The funding will sustain 1,200 UK jobs and follows the initial £350 million of design work announced earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
Downing Street said it was necessary to commit funding now to the design and development stage of the replacement submarine programme.
A spokesman for Number 10 said: "As the Defence Secretary has made very clear, we are progressing on the design and development.
"The decision on construction will not be taken until 2016."
As a result of the cash injection, Babcock, which owns Devonport Dockyard, will go ahead with an additional £38 million worth of work.
It follows on from £350 million in design contracts announced earlier this year, of which Babcock netted £15 million.