Peers brand decision to lift cap on number of nuclear warheads ‘thin and unconvincing’
Members of the House of Lords have criticised the government’s decision to lift the cap on the number of nuclear warheads held by the UK.
Peers argued the decision was disproportionate, expensive, unfounded, unconvincing and at odds with the United States, which has just pledged to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in foreign policy.
UK ministers had previously committed to reducing the number of nuclear warheads to a maximum of 180 by the middle of the decade, but under the review the stockpile could be up to 260.
Labour former defence secretary Lord Reid of Cardowan told peers: “By raising the cap on the numbers of our nuclear arsenal we have effectively abdicated our leadership role in nuclear disarmament.
“Not least by announcing a policy change that runs completely counter to President Biden’s commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security policies.”
In a debate on foreign policy today, Lord Reid said the government was providing for “fewer soldiers, fewer planes, fewer ships, but more nuclear warheads”.
Lord McDonald of Salford, who until last year was head of the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, said: “Raising the cap on our stockpile of nuclear warheads looks odd.”.
He argued the move did not increase deterrence, it was expensive and incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the international non-proliferation treaty.
Tory former minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns, who chairs the Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, said of the move: “There could hardly be a worse time to do so.
“If there is a plausible rationale for that significant policy change, perhaps based on maintaining the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, then the government should make that case. They have not.
“Their decision undermines Britain’s leverage to encourage other nuclear weapons states to exercise restraint in their modernisation programmes.”
Labour former defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton warned of a “gaping disparity” between the UK’s nuclear weapons posture and that of the US and condemned the justification for increasing the cap as “thin and unconvincing”.
Lord Browne said the policy shift was not proportionate to the threat and, in many circumstances, not credible.
But former chief of defence staff and independent crossbencher Lord Boyce said he applauded the government’s “courage and wisdom” in raising the nuclear stockpile’s ceiling.