‘No plans’ to move nuclear subs abroad in event of Scottish independence, MoD insists

The UK government has denied making secret plans to move its Trident nuclear submarines abroad in the event of Scottish independence.

Several senior officials were cited by the Financial Times on Wednesday as saying they had been briefed on plans which could see Britain’s nuclear deterrents housed in France or the United States if Nicola Sturgeon’s governing Scottish National Party achieves its goal of Scotland seceding from the UK.

Another option reportedly under being considered is for the UK to seek a long-term lease for the Royal Navy’s nuclear bases at their current location in Faslane and Coulport on the country’s west coast.

Officials said this would create a British Overseas Territory within the borders of a newly independent Scotland, likened by one insider to a “nuclear Gibraltar”.

However, the preferred route would be to move the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy base at Devonport in Plymouth, according to the paper.

But a spokesperson for the MoD insisted there were “no plans” to move the submarines.

“The UK is strongly committed to maintaining its credible and independent nuclear deterrent at HM Naval Base Clyde, which exists to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and our Nato allies,” they said.

“There are no plans to move the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde, which contributes to Scotland’s and the wider UK’s security and economy, and its supporting facilities are safe for local communities.”

“Contrary to a recent press report, the nuclear deterrent and the thousands of jobs which support it are staying in Scotland,” the department’s press office later wrote on Twitter.

The housing of the UK’s nuclear deterrents on the Clyde has long been a central pillar of the independence argument in Scotland, however the longstanding assumption that a majority of Scottish people opposed nuclear weapons has been frequently challenged in polls indicating something closer to a 50-50 split.

Responding to the report, the Scottish Government told the FT it firmly opposed the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and was “committed to the safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland”.

Meanwhile, the question of a second independence referendum remains a live one, with Boris Johnson’s government having recently appeared to soften its previously rigid stance against a future vote.

Speaking to Politico last week, Scotland secretary Alister Jack suggested the UK government could approve a fresh vote if polling showed support in Scotland for staging one remained above 60 per cent “over a reasonably long period”.

Meanwhile, as her party agreed a power-sharing agreement with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, Ms Sturgeon insisted on Tuesday that she holds an “undeniable” mandate for a second vote, with the two parties together winning 72 of Holyrood’s 129 seats in May’s election.

Both parties’ manifestos commit them only to a vote within the five-year term of the Scottish parliament, which runs to 2026, and Ms Sturgeon has indicated she will wait until the coronavirus crisis has abated to press for a vote.

If Mr Johnson, who must authorise the request for a referendum under Article 30 of the Scotland Act, refuses to do so, the matter could end up in the Supreme Court.

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