Labour’s Clive Lewis plays down Trident speech row

Clive Lewis speaking in LiverpoolImage copyright
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Clive Lewis said he was clear that Labour policy was to renew Trident

Labour’s shadow defence secretary has played down reports of a clash over last-minute alterations to his party conference speech.

Clive Lewis said he was “really pleased” with the speech, adding there was “nothing to see here”.

He is believed to have been prevented from committing to Labour policy to renew the UK’s nuclear weapons system.

A senior Labour source confirmed Mr Lewis was upset at late changes to his speech on a number of defence issues.

But the source said it was normal for work to be done on a speech until a late stage and added: “Clive found it a little frustrating but he’s OK with it now.”

Labour’s official policy is to support renewing the Trident system, but leader Jeremy Corbyn – a longstanding CND campaigner – wants to change the party’s position and launched a defence review to examine the issue.

During his speech, Mr Lewis told delegates he was sceptical about renewing the Trident nuclear missile system, but was “clear” that it was Labour policy to do so.

‘Not united’

BBC chief political correspondent Vicki Young said Mr Lewis had wanted to go further and say he was willing to stick with the official policy, but a line from his speech was taken out at the last minute by Mr Corbyn’s office.

She added that she was told Mr Lewis swore and threw his mobile phone in frustration when he came off stage amid unconfirmed reports he also punched a wall.

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Renewing Trident is estimated to cost £31bn

Mr Corbyn told the BBC: “We obviously discuss what is going to be said, and Clive delivered a speech on behalf of all of us.”

Renewing Trident would involve the manufacture of four replacement submarines at a current estimated cost of £31bn.

The issue caused a split in Labour when MPs voted in favour of renewal in July.

Addressing Labour conference in Liverpool, Mr Lewis said: “There are defence issues on which we are not united. This should not surprise us though. The security of our country – the first duty of any government – demands nothing less than the most rigorous of examination and debate.

“Friends, we know that nuclear weapons are one of those issues. As you know, I am sceptical about Trident renewal, as are many here. But I am clear that our party has a policy for Trident renewal.”

He went on to say Labour would take steps to make a nuclear-free world a reality.

‘Undermined’

Despite the change in wording, his speech prompted an angry reaction from CND general secretary Kate Hudson, who accused him of a “U-turn” and said Labour was now “supporting nuclear rearmament”.

“Lewis has clearly signalled that the Labour leadership will not seek to change Labour policy and appears to have abandoned its defence review conducted extensively over the past year,” she said.

“The majority of Labour members oppose Trident replacement, so where is the democracy in that?”

She added: “There is enormous opposition to Trident replacement within the Labour Party and there will be huge disappointment at this U-turn by Clive Lewis.”

According to a Labour MP, Mr Lewis told a policy forum meeting later on Monday that Trident was a “scab we have to stop picking” and the party needs to “move on and stop letting the Tories attack us” on the issue.

Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said Mr Lewis had been trying to “move the debate on” over Trident but was “undermined” by Mr Corbyn’s communications director, Seumas Milne.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said any changes to Labour’s policy would be decided at conference by members “because we are a democratic party”.

Labour’s Clive Lewis plays down Trident speech row}

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