UK’s plan to move Trident nuclear arsenal off British soil if Scotland becomes independent

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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has long been against housing nuclear weapons within Scottish territory. The UK’s Trident nuclear missile submarines are currently based on the west coast of Scotland. The base for the subs is at Faslane and the storage and loading facility for the weapons is at neighbouring Coulport. The sites on the River Clyde outside Glasgow collectively form Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde.

Ms Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party (SNP) believe that the only way to remove Trident from Scotland is if the nation becomes independent from the UK, something which the UK Government is firmly against.

The SNP also claims that billions of pounds will be saved if the UK’s nuclear deterrent is scrapped altogether.

Those pushing for Scottish independence were given hope when Ms Sturgeon pledged last year to hold another referendum – Indyref2 – on Scotland leaving the UK by 2023, COVID-19 permitting.

However, if Scotland eventually does split from the Union, major questions remain over Trident, including where it will be based.

According to a report by the Financial Times from September 2021, the nuclear subs could be moved to the US or France in the event of independence.

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Citing officials briefed on the matters, the newspaper reported that contingency planning has taken place in Whitehall for such an outcome.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there were “no plans” to move Trident away from Scotland.

A defence expert pointed to Kings Bay in Georgia as a potential Trident location, which is where the base for the US Navy’s Atlantic fleet of Trident submarines is.

Another option reportedly under consideration is moving Trident to Île Longue in Brittany, France, the home of the French nuclear arsenal.

The UK Treasury was said to favour the US option as it would require minimal financial support.

As well as moving Trident abroad if Scotland breaks away, another option would be to house Trident in England.

The most likely location for the nuclear deterrent would be the Royal Navy’s Devonport base in Plymouth.

A third option would be for Trident to continue to remain in Scotland in the event it split from the UK.

This solution, dubbed a “Nuclear Gibraltar”, would see the UK Government lease land in Scotland to house the subs.

However, Stewart McDonald, the SNP defence spokesperson denied Trident would remain in an independent Scotland.

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Reacting to the Financial Times report, he said the removal of Trident would “happen at pace”.

He added: “Negotiating their removal will be one of the most important tasks a newly independent Scotland will face.”

The UK MoD spokesperson 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.”

The UK is one of three members of the NATO alliance, along with France and the US, which has nuclear weapons.

Housing Trident in the UK is more likely than moving the subs abroad in the event of independence, according to nuclear expert Nick Ritchie, a senior lecturer in International Security at the University of York.

He told “I don’t think the arguments for France stack up, and possibly over at Kings Bay, Georgia in the US, where part of the US nuclear armed submarine fleet is homeported.

“That’s possible, but also expensive and difficult, so I think the easiest option by far for the UK would be to try and reach an agreement with what we assume to be an SNP-led government in an independent Scotland for some sort of sovereign base.

“That comes with all sorts of complications. But I think it is the only conceivable option.”

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