A report in the Irish Independent newspaper reveals that, in post-election negotiations with the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party was prepared to make concessions in its position over Trident replacement.
Only days after Gordon Brown accused Nick Clegg of being "a threat to security" by suggesting that Trident could be replaced with a cheaper alternative, Labour offered to include its replacement in the post-election Defence Review during the discussions between the two parties.
The discussions, of course, failed to reach agreement, and instead the Liberal Democrats entered into a coalition with the Conservatives. It's not yet clear what position the new coalition is taking on whether to include Trident and its successor within its Strategic Security and Defence Review, but most independent commentators agree that any review which does not include nuclear weapons will have little meaning. Not only will the programme to replace Trident be the largest single item in the defence equipment budget, but it will have a significant influence on the new government's foreign policy.
The matter takes on a new urgency in the light of current news about the dire financial situation that Labour has left for the new government. The Sunday Times has reported that the new cabinet has discovered a legacy of previously unknown contracts and uncosted spending commitments left by their predecessors, which will possibly force even deeper public spending cuts than previously feared.
The Sunday Times claims that a former Labour minister informed the paper that ministers and civil servants colluded to get as many contracts signed off as possible before the election was called. At the Ministry of Defence a series of contracts were signed shortly before the election, including a £13 billion tanker aircraft programme whose cost has “astonished and baffled” ministers, a contract to begin work on two more Astute class submarines, and a contract to begin design work on a future surface warship. This gives the new ministerial team at the defence ministry even less room to manoever than expected, sandwiched between a hugely overstretched defence equipment budget and the ruinous costs of the war in Afghanistan.
The financial situation is so bad that the new chancellor has announced an emergency budget at the end of June to tackle the country's £163bn fiscal deficit. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, has promised that he will not agree to any cuts that would damage frontline public services, but it's a promise he may not be able to keep without big cuts at the Ministry of Defence – including trimming the progamme to replace Trident.