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Why I changed my mind on the nuclear deterrent

David Lammy has said he is “100 per cent behind the UK’s nuclear deterrent” after Russia’ invasion of Ukraine changed his mind on the issue.

The shadow Foreign Secretary, who voted against renewing the Trident nuclear programme in 2016, said the ongoing conflict and visits to Ukraine had “truly shown me the seriousness of the systemic risk that Vladimir Putin poses to our country”.

Mr Lammy’s comments came following the launch of Labour’s defence strategy on Monday, during which Sir Keir Starmer said that he would be prepared to use nuclear weapons if needed to defend the UK.

Conservatives have lined up to point out that a number of shadow frontbenchers, including Mr Lammy and deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, voted against renewing Trident in 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. 

At the time, Mr Lammy cited his Christian faith as the reason for his opposition.

But in an interview with i, he insisted he was insisted he was now in full support of the nation’s nuclear weapons programme.

“The truth is, I suppose, is what I’ve seen in Ukraine, and as a Privy Councillor, the access that I’ve had on bipartisan terms with the government since the war in Ukraine has truly shown me the seriousness of the systemic risk that Vladimir Putin poses to our country,” he said.

“Had Ukraine been allowed to retain their nuclear weapons after its independence from the Soviet Union, they would not have faced the invasion that they did from Putin.

“So, for all of those reasons, the nuclear deterrent is essential, and that’s why John Healey [Labour’s shadow Defence Secretary] has talked about the triple lock, which is about upgrading our submarines, absolutely 100 per cent maintenance of trident and, of course, our long-term commitment to spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence.”

Mr Lammy also said that he had been inspired by former Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin who is widely credited as being a driving force behind the creation of Nato in 1949.

One of Nato’s key strategies was that of the West’s nuclear deterrent during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Mr Lammy said: “I and many others in the Labour Party owe a debt to Bevin… He was central to the nuclear deterrent.”

However, it appears not all Labour frontbenchers have followed Mr Lammy’s conversion. On Monday evening, Ms Rayner said she had not changed her mind on the UK having nuclear weapons – despite Sir Keir saying his whole Shadow Cabinet was behind his defence strategy.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said Labour’s pledge to protect the nuclear deterrent was “meaningless” because of Shadow Cabinet ministers’ previous opposition to renewing Trident.

Labour is yet to state that it would green light Ukraine’s use of UK supplied ammunition, drones and missiles being used to attack inside Russian territory, should the party win the general election.

Only in recent days have some Western countries changed their view that limitations should be placed on weapons they have given to Ukraine.

Up until now, Ukraine was only permitted by the West to use of their weapons to targets Russian targets located inside Ukraine, including Crimea and occupied territories. 

They were concerned that attacking targets across the internationally recognised border with weapons provided by Nato countries would escalate the conflict.

But the latest advance of Kremlin forces in the north-eastern Kharkiv region – just 30km from the Russian border – has convinced Kyiv’s allies that in order to defend itself, Ukraine must be able to destroy military targets on the other side of the border as well.

Following the growing pressure from Ukraine and other European states, the US agreed to change its policy and allow Kyiv to strike Russia with Western weapons.

Mr Lammy said Labour had no plans “at this stage” to allow UK ammunition to be used inside Russian territory.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have been out on the campaign trail since the Prime Minister announced on Wednesday 22 May there would be a snap election on 4 July. i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for our 2024 general election coverage.

The Tories have announced proposed changes to gender laws, as well as a national service policy, a “triple lock plus” for pensioners and a crackdown on fly-tipping.

Meanwhile, Labour has said it would be prepared to push the nuclear button if it were needed and that the party is willing to process asylum seekers abroad. After a week in which her name was in the headlines, Diane Abbott was given the go-ahead to run for the party in her seat.

Keep up to date on everything from the Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges and Nigel Farage’s mystery election announcement, to the televised debates and what tax pledges from Labour and those made by the Tories would mean for your money.

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