UK's nuclear weapons could move to France or America

UK's nuclear weapons could move to France or America

Secret plan to move Britain’s nukes abroad: MoD planners have proposed moving Trident to France or America if Scotland becomes independent

  • The UK’s nuclear submarines have been based at HMNB Clyde at Faslane in western Scotland since 1968 
  • If Scotland gets independence, there are plans in place to move them to France or even the US
  • The first choice would reportedly be to move them to Royal Navy base at Devonport in Plymouth

Contingency plans are in place to move Britain’s nuclear weapons to France if Scotland gains independence, it was reported last night.

The UK’s four nuclear submarines, armed with Trident missiles since 1996, have been based at HMNB Clyde at Faslane in western Scotland since 1968. 

A secondary base at Coulport, less than ten miles away, is where missiles are routinely stored.  

Around 6,500 people are employed at Faslane, with a further 200 at Coulport. But ministers are said to have drawn up plans to move the vessels to naval bases in the US or France in the event of the break-up of the Union.

The Ministry of Defence might also try to lease the existing naval bases, creating a British Overseas Territory within Scotland which has been dubbed ‘Nuclear Gibraltar’ by some insiders. 

The first and preferred option would reportedly be to relocate the submarines to the Royal Navy base at Devonport in Plymouth.

Contingency plans are in place to move Britain’s nuclear weapons to France if Scotland gains independence. Pictured: Faslane Naval Base where the UK’s nuclear submarines are based

The UK’s nuclear submarines, now armed with Trident missiles, have been based at HMNB Clyde at Faslane in western Scotland since 1968. Above: Trident nuclear submarine HMS Victorious on patrol near Faslane in 2013

In James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, the secret agent – then played by Roger Moore – was briefed about submarines at Faslane 

Senior officials told the Financial Times they had been briefed on the contingency plans, which they said showed the difficult choices potentially ahead.

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Scottish government was re-elected in May with a promise of a second referendum. The SNP has long opposed the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

According to analysis written by the Royal United Services Institute, which was written ahead of the first Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the costs of a move to Devonport – which is the largest naval base in Western Europe, could cost between £3billion and £4billion.  

If Britain’s nuclear weapons were to move to the US, a likely location would reportedly be Kings Bay, in Georgia. It is the current base for the US Navy Atlantic fleet of Trident submarines.

This option is said to be preferred by the Treasury because it would be the least expensive. 

However, basing Trident outside Britain may make it more difficult to defend the country’s sovereignty in the event of a military threat. 

If the submarine base were to be moved to France, it was reported that the vessels would go to the home of the French nuclear fleet, at Île Longue in Brittany in the north of the country. 

The first and preferred option would reportedly be to relocate the submarines to the Royal Navy base at Devonport in Plymouth 

If Britain were to move its nuclear submarines, they could be based in Brittainy, northern France, or even the US

While HMNB Clyde at Faslane is the home base of the submarines themselves, the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport is responsible for storing, processing and maintaining missiles when they are not loaded on submarines. 

The Royal Navy’s association with Faslane – which lies on the eastern shore of Gare Loch – stretches back as far as the First World War. 

It was in the loch that the steam-propelled HMS K13 sank in 1917 after her engine room flooded during sea trials. 

In the Second World War, large jetties and a railway were built at Faslane to accommodate arrivals of troops and supplies on large ships from across the Atlantic. 

After the conflict ended in 1945, the base was used to break up old navy vessels. The last battleship to be scrapped in Britain, HMS Vanguard, was taken apart at Faslane in 1962. 

The base was also used as a home for submarines. 

If the submarine base were to be moved to France, it was reported that the vessels would go to the home of the French nuclear fleet, at Île Longue in Brittany in the north of the country. Above: French marine officers on top of the ‘Le Vigilant’ nuclear submarine at Île Longue in 2007 

If Britain’s nuclear weapons were to move to the US, a likely location would reportedly be Kings Bay, in Georgia. It is the current base for the US Navy Atlantic fleet of Trident submarines

But its long and controversial link with nuclear weapons began in 1968, after navy chiefs and politicians had made the decision that the UK should have its own lethal deterrent amid the threats posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

On May 10, 1968, after the Polaris Sales Agreement with the US – which allowed Royal Navy submarines to carry lethal UGM-27 nuclear missiles – the new nuclear base at Faslane came into being. 

Then known as HMS Neptune, it was opened by the Queen Mother. Later that year, the first patrol was carried out by the HMS Resolution, which was launched in 1963 and was the first of the four Resolution-class submarines.

The following year, the UK had committed to the policy which remains in place today – Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). 

Whilst details were top secret when the operation first began, it is now public knowledge that any one of four nuclear submarines are guaranteed to be deployed at any given time.  

The second submarine used for the Polaris programme was HMS Renown, which was launched in 1964. It was followed by HMS Revenge in May 1965 and HMS Repulse in June of that year. 

Faslane’s long and controversial link with nuclear weapons began in 1968, after navy chiefs and politicians had made the decision that the UK should have its own lethal deterrent amid the threats posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Above: The base in 1967

On May 10, 1968, after the Polaris Sales Agreement with the US – which allowed Royal Navy submarines to carry lethal UGM-27 nuclear missiles – the new nuclear base at Faslane came into being. Later that year, the first patrol was carried out by the HMS Resolution (above), which was launched in 1963 and was the first of the four Resolution-class submarines

In 1969, the UK committed to the policy which remains in place today – Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). Above: Faslane in the 1980s

The Resolution-Class submarines and their Polaris missiles began to be phased out in 1992, when the first of the four Vanguard submarines were built. They were set to carry the new Trident system, which is still in place today.

The four submarines carrying Trident missiles are HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant and HMS Vengeance.    

Each missile carried on the submarines has warheads which are more powerful than the bombs dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two.  

The reasoning behind basing the UK’s nuclear weapons at Faslane was centred around the fact it is deep, easy to navigate and offers easy access to the North Atlantic.

However, the decision to place nuclear weapons on UK territory met fierce opposition from anti-nuclear campaigners. Hundreds of protests have taken place in the decades since the weapons arrived.

The decision to place nuclear weapons on UK territory met fierce opposition from anti-nuclear campaigners. Hundreds of protests have taken place in the decades since the weapons arrived. Above: Anti-nuclear demonstrators march through Edinburgh in 2006

Anti-nuclear campaigners hold banners and placards outside Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde, on October 25, 2020 in Faslane

A permanent protest site alongside the base, known as Faslane Peace Camp, has been occupied continuously since the early 1980s

A permanent protest site alongside the base, known as Faslane Peace Camp, has been occupied continuously since the early 1980s. 

In April this year, Extinction Rebellion activists chained themselves to giant plant pots during a protest outside the site. 

In 2016, MPs backed the renewal of the Trident system. It is expected to cost more than £30billion and delivery of the new fleet is not expected until the early 2030s. 

It will mean that when the Vanguard submarines leave service, they will have operated for at least ten years beyond their expected operational life. 

Critics have also previously argued that the cost of building, arming running and repairing four new nuclear submarines over their 40 years of operational life could be more than £100million      

The MoD last night said: ‘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. 

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

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: ‘The Scottish Government firmly oppose the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and we are committed to the safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.’ 

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