The uncomfortable costs of moving Trident | Analysis

Relocating the Trident base to another port could cost at least £20bn and take 20 years to build

The position of the British government, Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, told the Commons defence committee last week, is that it did not expect a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum on independence and therefore was not making any “specific contingency plans” about what to do with Britain’s sole nuclear weapons base – Faslane, north of the Clyde.

But there is a Whitehall saying that military planners at the Ministry of Defence have contingency plans for every eventuality, even a US attack on the UK.

Whitehall planners and independent thinktanks alike have contemplated the prospect of having to move the Trident base to Devonport in Plymouth, or Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.

However, moving the base to another port could cost at least £20bn, Professor Trevor Taylor, of the Royal United Services Institute, recently told the defence committee. It could take 20 years to build a new nuclear weapons base in England or Wales, experts told the Commons Scottish affairs committee last year. Hammond has said it could take 10 years if it was treated as an absolute priority.

The sheer cost of the exercise, and the time it would take, has forced military planners, officials and ministers to contemplate the possibility of establishing a UK sovereign base area around Faslane – linked to the weapons storage facility at nearby Coulport – along the lines of the British bases in Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus.

William Walker, professor of international relations at St Andrews University, told MPs a sovereign base would be “unusual” in the modern era but would be “one of the options available”.

Unilateral nuclear disarmers, including those among the senior ranks of the Scottish Nationalist Party, went out of their way to emphasise what they said were the prohibitive costs involved. Scottish independence, they argued, would advance the cause of ridding the whole of Britain of nuclear weapons.

The cost of relocating Trident might even persuade the British government to wonder whether it was worth keeping a nuclear deterrent, a programme which even Tony Blair described as of no military use.

Then Scottish politicians, like the defence officials in Westminster, began to soften their approach – not least, as far as the SNP was concerned, because of the implications for jobs.

What is now worrying officials and military chiefs in the MoD is that if they are seen to be accommodating about the status of the Trident base, their most powerful argument against Scottish independence – ie, that it would mean the end of Britain’s nuclear deterrence – will have evaporated.

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MoD fears for Trident base if Scotland says yes to independence

Whitehall looking at plan to designate home of nuclear fleet as sovereign United Kingdom territory

The British government is examining plans to designate the Scottish military base that houses the Trident nuclear deterrent as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year’s referendum.

In a move that sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, which vowed to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible after a yes vote, the government is looking at ensuring that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus.

The move would be designed to ensure that the Trident fleet would continue to have access to the open seas via the Firth of Clyde. Under Britain’s “continuous at sea deterrent”, at least one Vanguard submarine armed with 16 Trident nuclear missiles is on patrol at sea at any one time.

The warnings over Faslane come as the British government issues stark warnings to the people of Scotland about the dangers of independence. But William Walker, professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews, told the Guardian: “Threats and counter threats are going on. The risk the government in London is taking – and I think they are waking up to this – is that it all seems like scaremongering.”

The Ministry of Defence is officially working on only one option for the Faslane base ahead of next year’s Scottish independence referendum – a defeat for the SNP, thereby guaranteeing the survival of the base that has housed the nuclear deterrent since the Polaris era in the 1960s. An MoD spokesperson said: “We are confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain a part of the United Kingdom.”

But MoD officials are starting to examine a two-stage process to ensure that Britain could continue to station the Vanguard submarines at the deep-water Faslane base and store the nuclear warheads at the nearby Coulport base on Loch Long.

The British government would first tell the Scottish government after a yes vote that it would cost tens of billions of pounds over many years to decommission the Faslane base and to establish a new base in England or Wales to house the nuclear fleet.

These costs would have to be factored into severance payments negotiated with the Scottish government before full independence is declared around two years after the referendum.

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, gave a taste of the costs when he told the house of commons defence select committee last week: “It would cost a significant amount of money.”

As an alternative, the Scottish government would be told it could reduce the costs to Edinburgh if it agreed to allow Faslane to be designated as sovereign UK territory along the lines of the Akrotiri and Dhekelia sovereign base areas (SBAs) in Cyprus.

The base could be designated an SBA for an initial period of 10 years – to allow for decommissioning – if the Scottish government rejects out …read more  

Letters: Bonus for private sector as coalition delivers up Royal Mail

Ha-Joon Chang (The new fat cats, 10 July) notes the negative aspects of outsourcing in what he calls the age of irresponsibility. An additional issue is that there is a marginal cost to the economy that is not factored in when outsourcing public services, namely the diversion of finance and human effort from the more difficult but necessary business of developing products and services to sell overseas. It is easy money for the corporate businesses, with no competition and long contracts. The real competition, the public servants, are removed from “the market”, ensuring a never-ending cash flow for services that do not need to be in the private sector. A Labour government should ensure that the private sector has to make its money in the real world of international trade.
Bob Nicholson
Frodsham, Cheshire

• Why on earth is our government so timid about its central conviction? Why stop at the NHS and Royal Mail? The market is, according to current creed, the best provider of services and can even make a profit out of them. Why not the armed forces? The number of botched contracts mismanaged by the MoD are too numerous to mention. Selling off the army, navy and RAF might raise a few eyebrows, but look at the benefits. Instead of sitting around bored and doing nothing most of the time, they could be hired out for profit. It could be made mandatory for the new company to properly compensate members of their workforce when they do get injured while employed. There are now about 20 armed conflicts in progress in various parts of the world. Why not a Union Jack (Ltd) flying over all the front lines?
Bruce Kent
London

• 10 July will go down as another day to bury bad news: the details of the sell-off of Royal Mail (Report, 10 July), amid the furore over Labour’s links to the unions. And the next trap for Ed Miliband is will Labour support the CWU if they take industrial action? Postal workers are being offered shares which they can’t sell for three years, by which time they may be worth nothing. And to further sweeten the workforce they have been offered a substantial pay rise, again over three years. How many jobs will have been lost by then?
Dr Graham Ullathorne
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• Aided and abetted by the Lib Dems, the Tories continue their destruction of our national institutions. This time the City sharks await the sale of the Royal Mail, while the taxpayer picks up the tab for the pension deficit and the workers are bribed by the windfall of £2,000. After privatisation, will the Queen’s head remain on the stamps?
Jake Fagg
Bristol

• Post workers pay, conditions and pensions will be targeted and who will benefit? Just a few of the elite at the top. Services to rural areas will be curtailed. In the longer term, this will increase the need for benefits as more …read more  

Profile: ex-SAS soldier Danny Nightingale

The trial of the former special services soldier has revealed the human face of a normally secretive regiment

Sergeant Danny Nightingale emerged from the hearings as a soldier dedicated to the SAS and, away from the battlefield, a gentle and thoughtful family man.

Nightingale joined the army in 1995 and the SAS in 2001. He has seen active service in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Libya as well as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Like many in the SAS he has a wide range of skills. He is inevitably described as a sniper but his specialist skills also include driving, den-making and surveillance.

When he realised there was a shortage of combat medics in the regiment, he became an expert in that area and helped invent a new type of chest wound dressing – known as the Nightingale Dressing – that is now used by the military across the globe and by ambulance crews in the UK and US.

In 2007, Nightingale was posted to Iraq to help combat suicide attacks on allied forces. He returned to the UK as part of a repatriation party after two close friends died in a helicopter crash.

Nightingale witnessed the accident, which was later blamed by a British coroner on a combination of pilot error and “indefensible procedural and maintenance errors” by the Ministry of Defence.

In 2009, he took part in an endurance event in the Amazon to raise money for injured comrades. He became seriously ill, spent three days in a coma and almost died.

But by January 2010, he was passed fit to return to full duty. He was made sniper co-ordinator of a fast-reaction counter-terrorism team, ready to be airborne within 30 minutes to tackle a Mumbai-style terrorist attack on British soil.

During his trial at Bulford military centre in Wiltshire, a picture emerged of Nightingale and his best friend, Soldier N, living a double life in a suburban street. Nightingale had the back bedroom, N the front. They kept the house neat and tidy and took turns to mow the lawn and clean the windows. All the time they were ready to be helicoptered into a life-or-death situation.

N, who has admitted possessing a pistol and ammunition, came over as more cagey than Nightingale. It was his former wife who told police there were weapons at the house, after they split acrimoniously.

He told the court he had fired “many pistols” in his time and had been on more tours than he could remember. He refused to say which country he was in when he was given the Glock pistol found in his room (it was Iraq in 2003). Asked to whom the pistol had belonged, he first said that he could not pronounce his name – then insisted: “His name escapes me.”

He claimed the acquisition of weapons happened all the time: “You go on operations, you want to bring back a trophy, as our grandfathers did in the war. To bring back a trophy is regarded as semi-OK even though …read more  

Danny Nightingale trial: special forces were always treated as special cases

Mystique surrounding unit encouraged SAS troopers to believe they were not bound by same rules as other soldiers

The special forces – the SAS and its naval equivalent, the Special Boat Service (SBS) – have always been treated as a special case, protected by a ring of official secrecy.

The court martial paid lip service to the convention that their members and their operations are not mentioned by name. Thus, Nightingale was said to be a member of a “unit” that was surrounded by a certain mystique, as the prosecuting counsel put it. Their bases in Iraq were referred to as North 1, North 2, and South.

That mystique has fed a special status that has encouraged SAS troopers to believe they are not bound by the same rules as other soldiers in the British army; keeping trophies after foreign deployments was often regarded as “half-OK”, as one of Nightingale’s former colleagues put it.

The jailing last year of Nightingale provoked a storm of protest. More than 35,000 people signed a petition calling for the case to be reviewed. Tory MPs joined those who expressed outrage at his jailing.

Julian Brazier, the Tory MP for Canterbury and a former member of the territorial SAS, said Nightingale had “risked his life for his country again and again”.

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, joined in asking the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, “to review whether the public interest test has been applied appropriately”.

David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “The PM agrees that the defence secretary was right to pursue every avenue and make sure that the correct processes had been followed.”

Grieve and other government lawyers were not amused. A spokesperson for Grieve said it would be inappropriate for him to review “either the decision to prosecute or comment on the appropriateness of the sentence. That is a matter for the court martial appeal court, in due course.”

Army commanders were as uneasy as government lawyers. They did not like the way the SAS got away with special treatment, epitomised by an amnesty for those keeping weapons unlawfully, introduced after Nightingale was arrested.

The feeling that the SAS is unfairly protected is compounded by the fact that the official rule – still adhered to by the D notice committee, which runs a system of voluntary self-censorship with the media – that their operations should never be identified is honoured far more in the breach than in the observance.

The media are not discouraged from referring to SAS exploits when they are successful. When they have been involved in controversial activities, such as helping to send terror suspects to prisons where they were abused, questions from journalists are met with silence.

The issues are particularly serious at a time when Britain’s special forces have been deployed more than ever since the second world war. And they are likely to play an increasingly significant role in future conflicts.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | …read more