Labour will tomorrow stress its commitment to nuclear weapons and NATO as the party tries to repair its reputation with Britain’s Armed Forces.
The link between Labour and the military suffered under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as he was accused of repeatedly undermining NATO and rendering the Trident nuke deterrent system effectively useless by revealing he would never order the firing of a missile.
That was despite post-war Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee helping form the North Atlantic alliance, and his government pressing ahead with plans for Britain’s first nuclear weapon.
Nearly a year after Mr Corbyn quit as party premier, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey will reaffirm Labour’s position on security.
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute – which was set up by the Duke of Wellington and is the world’s oldest defence think-tank – he will say: “First, Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable; second, Labour’s support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable.”
The speech comes as the Government prepares to publish its long-delayed Integrated Review of defence, foreign affairs and international aid.
Experts fear the Army will be cut by 10,000 troops and scores of tanks will be scrapped – despite a record £16.5billion, four-year cash pledge from Boris Johnson last autumn.
Mr Healey will stress Labour’s plan to back UK industry with military procurement deals that benefit Britain’s defence, aerospace, shipbuilding and steel sectors.
He will say: “We are the party of sovereign defence capability – we see the steel industry, the shipyards, the aerospace and materials industries as a national asset.
We want to see a clear plan from Government to enhance these capabilities.
“We want to see, for the good of our country, as much as possible of our equipment designed and built here.”
Unions which represent defence workers hailed the commitments.
Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said: “We very much welcome the clarity set out in John Healey’s speech and what this means for the workforce.
“The cross-party support for the nuclear deterrent will reassure tens of thousands of highly-skilled workers engaged in building our nuclear submarines and the communities that rely on those jobs.”
Looking to the Integrated Review, which is expected to be published shortly, he added: “It is absolutely vital that the Integrated Review has at its heart a long-term industrial strategy for defence, clearly laying out a pipeline of work for our manufacturers.
“That certainty would unlock strategic investment that allows for the UK to maintain its sovereign capability to design, manufacture and maintain vital equipment for our Armed Forces.
“The UK urgently needs to give industry the ability to invest in skills, training and world-class facilities, which will pump resources into our regional economies as part of the Covid recovery.
“The alternative of buying off-the-shelf kit from the US might help level up for American workers but would do nothing for our highly-skilled workforce.”
GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said: “GMB supports our members who do the skilled and valuable work that maintains Trident, the communities that are sustained by Trident and support its renewal.
“We’ve long campaigned for Government defence spending to support manufacturing in the UK steel industry and the wider supply chain.”
“We welcome the Labour Party spelling out clearly its long-standing support for building four new submarines at Barrow and all future upgrades, and calls to ensure the highly skilled manufacturing jobs in the defence industry and wider supply chain are kept and nurtured in the UK.”
“It’s common sense that we build on the skills, jobs, apprenticeships and prosperity at home.”
Community steelworkers’ union operations director Alasdair McDiarmid said: “We are pleased to see Labour remaining committed to using defence spending to stimulate the British economy and create new jobs, as well as recognising the importance the steel industry has to play in our national defence.
“The pandemic has highlighted the dangers of relying on fragile international supply chains and it is therefore imperative we retain and develop our sovereign steelmaking capacities.
“Protecting our key industries is fundamental to Britain’s economic independence and our national security, we must never take it for granted and we are therefore glad to see Labour backing British steel.”