The removal of Trident nuclear warheads from an independent Scotland could take a decade, U.K. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told lawmakers today.
A Yes vote in next year’s referendum would be the starting point for complex negotiations including who would pay for the dismantling of the existing nuclear submarine facilities on the River Clyde, Hammond told Parliament’s Defence Committee in London.
“Technically removal would be in the order of a decade because of the very stringent safety measures involved,” Hammond said. “The process would not be able to begin until negotiations across the board had been completed and financial arrangements had been finalized. If we had to include the dismantling of the facilities, the cost of that would be factored into the overall cost of the settlement between the parties.”
Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party last year reversed its long-standing opposition to membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the western defense alliance, on condition that the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent is removed from Scottish waters.
Trident might have to stay at Faslane for as long as two years while an independent Scotland builds its naval headquarters at the base, the largest industrial employer in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy First Minister, said on a BBC webcast yesterday. That represented a move on the SNP’s part, Hammond said.
The Scottish government said in February that the removal of the Trident warheads would be an “early” element in the transition to independence. U.K. lawmakers said last year the warheads could be deactivated within days and removed within two years.
It would be “ridiculous” to expect the Scottish people to bear the cost of relocating Trident given most Scottish people don’t want the missiles on Scottish soil, Keith Brown, Scottish minister for transport and veterans, told the Defence Committee earlier.
The balance of probabilities favored U.K. orders for proposed new warships being placed with Clyde shipyards even in the event of independence because of their expertise, Brown said.
The yards at Govan and Scotstoun would need civilian orders as well as warship orders from the Scottish government to survive, he said.
The U.K. pays more to build its own warships because it is strategically important to maintain its sovereign capability in that area, even though it could buy them much more cheaply from countries such as Spain and Italy, Hammond told the lawmakers.
“We could no longer justify paying a premium” if the U.K. gave up its sovereign capability.
The U.K.’s single market is the best reason for Scotland to reject independence, Business Secretary Vince Cable said earlier today in the British government’s latest analysis of the implications of Scotland going it alone.
Scotland’s exports to the rest of the U.K., excluding oil and gas, totaled 45.5 billion pounds ($69 billion) in 2011, four times as much as to the rest of the EU and twice as much as to the rest of the world, Cable said in Glasgow.
Independence is the flagship policy of the semi-autonomous Scottish government headed by Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. A referendum is being held on Sept. 18 next year, with polls showing voters in favor of retaining the status quo.