Election 2024: what do the manifestos say about nuclear weapons?

Ahead of the 2024 election, what are the positions of the different political parties on nuclear weapons? There has been minimal discussion of the issue on the campaign trail, but all the manifestos have now been released, and we have analysed the position of the parties below. We have included all the major parties standing in England, Wales and Scotland, in order of their vote share in the 2019 election.

This election is particularly unique, in that the three largest UK-wide parties are all pledging to maintain current policy on nuclear weapons. This convergence would be noteworthy in its own right, but it has happened at a time when it is not clear that the status quo is even sustainable, both in terms of cost rises in the upgrade programmes and the ability of the current submarine fleet to maintain continuous deployment at sea. It is possible that many of these manifestos are promising a policy which is undeliverable.

The MOD’s 2023-2033 Equipment Plan included spending far in excess of the available budget on the expectation that the MOD budget would be allowed to rise to 2.5% of GDP, although at the time this was a long-term ambition of the government with no timetable for implementation. NATO states have collectively agreed to increase their military spending to 2% of GDP, first as a ‘guideline’ in 2006, then reaffirmed as a ‘pledge’ in 2014. Currently the UK is spending around 2.3% of GDP on the military.

Pledges to continue with current nuclear weapons policy are only credible alongside undertakings to increase the MOD budget sufficiently to cover rising costs. Many of the manifestos do contain pledges to increase the MOD budget, often to a proportion of GDP. They could do this by raising revenue through taxation or cutting government spending on other areas. As the question of affordability is so central to nuclear weapons policy, we have quoted from assessments by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) when parties have policies which involve spending commitments.

Conservative Party

The section on defence in the Tory manifesto is entitled ‘Our plan to secure our nation from
global uncertainty’. The manifesto pledges to be “steadfast in…support for our Trident nuclear deterrent”. As the current party of government, a major focus of the manifesto is on the government’s record, including the £24bn of extra spending for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) under the 2021 Integrated Review, and the additional £5bn under the 2023 Integrated Review Refresh “to invest in stockpiles and our nuclear enterprise”. Other items listed as achievements of the current government include a ‘nuclear skills package’ worth up to £763m by 2030, the AUKUS submarine programme, and more general investment in UK arms production.

The pledge to increase MOD spending to 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030 is given the highest profile in this section of the manifesto, and is accompanied by a promise to ‘campaign’ for other NATO countries to also increase their military spending to 2.5% by 2030.

According to the IFS, the Tory manifesto anticipates a cut of £12bn from the welfare budget without including policies that are capable of delivering those cuts, and a further £10-20bn of cuts were implied by the March budget, but the manifesto does not explain where these cuts will fall. The promise to increase the MOD budget should be seen in the context of these substantial cuts to other public services, and the uncertainty over whether they will materialise.

Even with the promised increases to the MOD budget, we do not know what the proposed rate of spending increases will be, or the distribution of forecast MOD costs over the next decade. As such, it is not certain that the increases would be sufficient to fund all currently planned MOD spending, let alone any unforeseen cost rises.

Labour Party

Pledges to retain the UK’s nuclear weapons can be found in two parts of the Labour manifesto. In the first, entitled ‘Strong Foundations’, the party’s ‘absolute’ commitment to nuclear weapons and other pledges on MOD policy can be found alongside sections detailing the party’s position on ‘secure’ borders and economic stability. Elsewhere, an ‘unshakable’ commitment to nuclear weapons is a headline pledge in a section entitled ‘Britain Reconnected’, which deals with diplomacy, trade and international climate change action, but the subject is not mentioned in the text of the section.

No further details are given on Labour’s nuclear weapons policy in the manifesto. However, there is a pledge to carry out a Strategic Defence Review within a year of the party entering government, and for that review to include a path to increasing MOD spending to 2.5% of GDP.

According to the IFS the Labour manifesto pledges to increase spending in a few key areas, alongside promises not to increase taxes imply spending cuts in ‘unprotected’ budgets, needing between £6bn and £16bn in 2028-29. These have been ruled out, and the IFS accused Labour, along with the Tories and Liberal Democrats, of participating in a ‘conspiracy of silence’ about the challenges they will face if they form the next government As with the Tory promise on 2.5%, it is not clear if the planned increases to MOD spending will be sufficient to fund currently predicted cost rises, even if fulfilled.

On the campaign trail, and prior to the announcement of the election, Labour have said that their policy includes a ‘triple lock’ on nuclear weapons policy, borrowing a term used by the 2010 coalition government to describe their pension policy. The first two elements of this ‘lock’ were said to be a commitment to retaining continuous deployment of a nuclear-armed submarine at sea, and a commitment to fund the Dreadnought submarine programme.

The third commitment of the ‘lock’ was a pledge to pay for any upgrades needed for the submarines. This commitment is purely hypothetical, as no upgrades are planned for the current fleet, and the Dreadnought submarines will not come into service within the next parliamentary term. Although this ‘triple lock’ does not appear in the manifesto itself, the clear intent of the language is to dispel any suggestions that policy will deviate from the status quo should Labour form the next government, while in practice deferring any detailed policy decisions for the promised Strategic Defence Review. It remains to be seen whether the exclusion of more detailed pledges on nuclear weapons from the manifesto will translate into any policy flexibility. The tenor of statements made on the campaign trail suggest otherwise, and that instead either cuts will be made to other areas of public spending or taxes will be increased to fund nuclear weapon spending

Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat policy on nuclear weapons has undergone a substantial change since the 2019 election, when the party pledged to continue with the Dreadnought programme but only to build three submarines and move the UK to a “medium-readiness responsive posture…through measures such as unpredictable and irregular patrolling patterns”. Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the party has endorsed the UK’s current nuclear posture and submarine force composition, and their manifesto promises to maintain both of these while “pursuing multilateral global disarmament”.

The manifesto also contains pledges to increase MOD spending every year of the forthcoming parliament and to increase cooperation with France, building on the 2010 Lancaster House treaties, one of which involved cooperation on nuclear weapons research and maintenance.

The IFS sound a note of scepticism about the potential for policies in the Lib Dem manifesto to raise the revenue needed for the promised increases in MOD spending and in other areas, and point out that the plans already imply billions of spending cuts in areas such as prisons, courts and local government. As with Tory and Labour proposed increases to military spending, there is no guarantee that Lib Dem plans would be sufficient to cover the nuclear weapon costs that are currently expected.

Scottish National Party

The SNP manifesto promises to ‘scrap Trident’ and “invest the billions spent funding these immoral weapons in public services”, including conventional military spending. It reminds readers that the SNP has never supported the UK’s nuclear weapons and promises that the party will press for the UK to meet its international disarmament obligations.

Green Party

The manifesto of the Green Party of England and Wales promises that its elected representatives will push for the UK to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and get rid of its nuclear weapons under the treaty’s ‘join and disarm’ route. They further pledge towards enlargement of the TPNW membership, and for international peace and stability through the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The manifesto does commit the party to supporting the UK’s membership of NATO while working towards the alliance adopting a policy of ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons and only acting in defence of member states.

The Scottish Green Party is a separate organisation, and has its own manifesto. While taking the same broad position of opposing the UK’s nuclear weapons, the Scottish Greens envisage an independent Scotland joining the TPNW removing the weapons from their territories and leaving NATO. Instead of NATO membership the manifesto calls for a “new non-nuclear model of mutual security” based on the OSCE.

Reform UK

Reform UK, which contested the 2019 election as the ‘Brexit Party’, has the shortest manifesto of all those we reviewed. At only 28 pages long, including front and back cover, it is half as long as the next shortest. Despite including an entire page dedicated to fisheries policy, the manifesto includes no mention of nuclear weapons. However, in the ‘Defence’ section it promises to raise MOD spending to 2.5% of GDP within three years and to 3% within six. According to the IFS the Reform UK manifesto sums “do not add up”.

Plaid Cymru

The Plaid Cymru manifesto states the parties opposition to the UK’s possession of nuclear weapons, Trident renewal and increases in MOD spending. It expresses support for the TPNW and says that if defence spending is necessary it should be should be directed towards conventional capabilities and “peaceful ends, rather than weapons of mass destruction”.


The adoption by the Liberal Democrats of a policy supporting four nuclear-armed submarines and continuous deployment at sea brings a rare moment of congruence between the three largest UK-wide parties on the country’s nuclear force composition and posture. It is ironic that this unity has arisen at a time when the nuclear programme has arguably never looked less capable of delivering on its stated objectives.

While similar criticisms have also been made about the fiscal realism of pro-disarmament parties, it is indicative that none of the parties promising continuity in nuclear weapons policy appear to be offering candour to voters about the difficult financial choices that will face them if they form a government. In practice nobody knows whether or not the incoming government will be able to maintain continuous nuclear-armed patrols until the Dreadnought submarines come into service, but it is dishonest to pretend to voters that there is no question over whether they can. By refusing to grapple with this reality, and be honest with voters about the situation, politicians are not only failing voters but also members of the armed forces who work in the weapons programme.

Related content

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. More information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.