“The prospect of a nuclear war in Europe and beyond is closer than it’s been for decades. US nuclear weapons in Britain puts us all on the front line.”
By Carol Turner, Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
On 11 April Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) warned the world that the United States was planning to site nuclear weapons in Britain again. Department of Defence budget documents showed the US was planning a big and costly upgrade of its nuclear facilities in Europe – and the UK has been added to that list.
Despite this impeccable source of information, the British government refuses to admit it. Sadly, the Labour front bench appears to be ducking the issue too.
The US is the only nuclear weapons state which sites nuclear weapons outside its own territory. Five European countries – Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey – already host US nuclear weapons. Britain will be the sixth.
The first of the new-generation US fighter bomber aircraft, the F-35A Lightning II, arrived at Lakenheath last December. Among other things, the F-35As are capable of delivering nuclear gravity bombs – the sort that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but many times more powerful.
We know the US will begin training nuclear units in Europe during the course of this year, ready to receive the new B61-12 guided nuclear bombs. We also know that 110 US nuclear bombs were stored at Lakenheath until 2008 when they were removed following popular protests, and that silo facilities still exist there.
In a written questions to the Secretary of State for Defence, SNP MP Kirsten Oswald asked (156494, 20 April) ‘what data his Department holds on whether the special weapons referred to in the US’s 2023 Defence Budget request for infrastructure investment at a storage site in the UK will be B61-12 nuclear bombs.’
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also asked (156418, 20 April) “whether the underground storage vaults at RAF Lakenheath are being upgraded (a) generally and (b) specifically to allow the storage of B61-12 nuclear bombs; and if he will make a statement.”
James Heappey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence avoided both questions with the same reply: “The Ministry of Defence is unable to comment on US spending decisions and capabilities, which are a matter for the US Government.”
At a meeting of Labour’s Britain in the World (BiW) Policy Commission on 28 April, I asked Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy three questions on Lakenheath:
- Is the front bench aware that US nuclear weapons are coming back to Britain?
- What attitude has the front bench taken or is likely to take in your opinion?
- Can we schedule a report on US nukes returning to the UK at a future BiW Policy Commission?
Sadly, and despite protests from other BiW members, David also ducked these questions. He chose only to reiterate that Labour policy was to support Nato and Trident. The return of US nuclear weapons to Britain is a new and substantial issue of policy for Labour. It deserves real consideration by the NPF and a proper answer from Labour’s front bench.
Every policy commission agenda contains an item on submissions made to Labour’s policy website. This allows BiW members to comments on what’s been posted on Labour’s policy website. Raising the issue of US nuclear weapons returning to Britain, is an opportunity for local parties and individual members to let the Parliamentary Labour Party and National Executive Committee know how we feel about it. Submissions are not restricted to party members or party organisations. You don’t have to be in the Labour Party to air your views.
But note: the NPF is being reorganised. Its eight policy commissions have recently been amalgamated into six and renamed. At the time of writing Labour’s policy website hasn’t yet caught up. Britain in the World replaces the International Policy Commission – use it for the time being.
The prospect of a nuclear war in Europe and beyond is closer than it’s been for decades. US nuclear weapons in Britain puts us all on the front line. Not surprising perhaps, CND is ahead of the parliamentary pack, keeping the public updated as more information comes to light.
The first national protest at Lakenheath air base takes on Saturday 21st May. Transport is being organised from across the country. Visit CND for the latest information and keep in touch with Labour CND for news about Labour’s approach.
Tell the government we won’t stand silently by while US nuclear weapons creep back into Britain by the backdoor. It’s much too important an issue for all our futures. Join CND at Lakenheath.
- Carol Turner is Chair of Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (LCND). She is a CLP rep on National Policy Forum for London Region and standing for re-election with Cam Rose, David Levy and Adrian Weir, Grassroots Labour Candidates for London.
- You can follow Labour CND on Facebook and twitter.