Sixteen campaigners from the groups Trident Ploughshares and Women in Black (London) have joined together in a dignified and silent protest within the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, protesting at the illegal and undemocratic decision to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system, being made by the Government behind closed doors.  Entering the lobby of the House of Commons at 2p.m today. They stood silently in a circle displaying t-shirts with the message ‘Disarm Nuclear Weapons Now’, whilst waiting to lobby their MPs. They are refusing to move and are risking arrest.

Their action highlights the need for the Government to engage in the debate already raging amongst commentators, military and security experts and members of the public over the plan to commit £76bn to replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. A decision on the next stage of the Trident replacement process is due to take place in September, during the Parliamentary recess.

Angie Zelter, one of the Trident Ploughshares protesters said, ‘The Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Geneva Conventions, are being breached by the UK. If our Government is sincere about trying to stop terrorism then it should get rid of its own weapons of mass terrorism and stop its preparations for mass murder, and neither update nor replace Trident. Only a sincere and honest commitment to international law will bring the peace and justice the world needs to co-operate fully in solving the many crises, like climate chaos, that are confronting us’.

Liz Khan, from Women in Black London, said, ‘The Government is taking fundamental decisions on the replacement of Trident in secret, behind closed doors. This is undemocratic. Given the current economic situation, blowing over £100bn on a useless weapon of mass destruction should surely be a matter for public scrutiny and debate. Our action today is part of the process of bringing this issue out into the open’.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “Next week Presidents Obama and Medvedev look set to agree huge cuts in their nuclear arsenals – perhaps by as much as 50%. The clear international trend is towards disarmament – unilateral, bilateral and multilateral. The UK must not stand apart from that by committing huge amounts of taxpayers money to renewing a system designed for the Cold War which has no relevance to the threats of the 21st century. Gordon Brown has said he wants to listen more – he should start by heeding the call from 85 of his own backbenchers not to commit over £2bn to Trident Replacement during the parliamentary recess, when there is no chance for democratic scrutiny.”

The MoD’s current schedule will see ministers take a decision on the scope and capabilities of the replacement system (the ‘Initial Gate’) during the Parliamentary recess this September, when there is no possibility for scrutiny in the Commons. The decision is expected to commit upwards of £2.1bn to the programme. Over 160 MPs have now signed EDM 660 calling for a Parliamentary debate before this decision is taken to proceed to the next stage in the replacement process. The Foreign Affairs Committee also recommended a further Parliamentary debate in its recent report on global security and non-proliferation. To date, the government have refused to allow any debate to take place, even though the decision will come at a sensitive time, just before Labour Party conference.

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Notes to Editors:

For further information and interviews please contact  Ben Soffa, CND’s Press Officer, on 0207 7002350 or 07968 420859

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.

Trident Ploughshares is a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a non-violent, open, peaceful and fully accountable manner. To date 2,252 Trident Ploughshares disarmers have been arrested leading to over 520 trials.

Women in Black (WiB) is a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence.

AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment) Aldermaston is where the UK makes its nuclear weapons. It is where the warheads for the current Trident system were built and at nearby AWE Burghfield, the warheads are periodically refurbished, and then taken back to Faslane in Scotland.  Spending at AWE on capital programmes has risen from £24m in 2000/1 .Now they have started work on the next generation of nuclear weapons. Since 2002, AWE Aldermaston has been building new facilities to design, test and build the next generation of nuclear weapons. The development plans are on the same scale as Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. Despite opposition from people all around the world, who fear the start of another nuclear arms race, a new laser facility, which is able to recreate the conditions of a nuclear explosion, is nearing completion, and other buildings are planned or under construction.

Parliament was promised in 2007 that they would have ample time for discussion of the new proposals for updating Trident and yet decisions will be taken behind closed doors during the Parliamentary recess this summer. EDM 660, signed by 161 MPs states that taking the ‘initial gate’ decision during the recess “undermines the commitment made to Parliament by the Foreign Secretary in March 2007; and requests that the Initial Gate decision be delayed until Parliament is in session and can be presented with the report for scrutiny.”

Evidence presented to the Commons Defence Select Committee by Michael Codner (Director of Military Sciences, Royal United Services Institute) suggests that up to 15% of the capital costs of the programme to build new Trident replacement submarines would be released by the ‘initial gate’ decision, with the remaining 85% falling after the ‘main gate’ in 2012-2014. Government estimates for the cost of the new submarines are £11-14bn, meaning the decision this September would commit up to £2.1bn. Evidence from the UK’s ongoing Astute submarine programme suggests (currently 48% over budget) suggests costs will be significantly higher, perhaps in the region of £25bn.

Judge Bedjaoui (the President of the International Court of Justice when it gave its historic ruling on nuclear weapons in 1996) stated in May 2009, ‘I have been asked to give a personal opinion on the legality of a nuclear weapons system that deploys over 100 nuclear warheads with an approximate yield of 100 kt per warhead. Bearing in mind that warheads of this size constitute around eight times the explosive power of the bomb that flattened Hiroshima in 1945 and killed over 100,000 civilians, it follows that the use of even a single such warhead in any circumstance, whether a first or second use and whether intended to be targeted against civilian populations or military objectives, would inevitably violate the prohibitions on the infliction of unnecessary suffering and indiscriminate harm as well as the rule of proportionality including with respect to the environment. In my opinion, such a system deployed and ready for action would be unlawful.  In accordance with evidence heard by the Court, it is clear that an explosion caused by the detonation of just one 100 kt warhead would release powerful and prolonged ionising radiation, which could not be contained in space or time, and which would harmfully affect civilians as well as combatants, neutral as well as belligerent states states, and future generations as well as people targeted in the present time.  In view of these extraordinarily powerful characteristics and effects, any use of such a warhead would contravene international and humanitarian laws and precepts. In other words,  even in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake, the use of a 100 kt nuclear warhead – regardless of whether it was targeted to land accurately on or above a military target —  would always fail the tests of controllability, discrimination, civilian immunity, and neutral rights and would thus be unlawful’.
He went on to say, ‘The modernisation, updating or renewal of such a nuclear weapon system would also be a material breach of NPT obligations,  particularly the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to “accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament” and the fundamental Article 6 obligation to negotiate in good faith on cessation of the arms race and on nuclear disarmament, with the understanding that these negotiations must be pursued in good faith and brought to conclusion in a timely manner.’