Tim Farron, the new leader of the U.K.’s Liberal Democrat Party, successfully blocked a move to commit the party to unilateral nuclear disarmament Monday in his first clash with members over policy.
The party leadership won the backing of the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference to amend a motion saying Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons is “inappropriate and unhelpful,” committing it to an 18-month review of policy instead. The change was passed by 579 votes to 447 at the gathering Monday in Bournemouth, southern England.
“We want to be seen as a serious party of government,” Willie Rennie, the party’s leader in Scotland, told delegates. “We should back Tim and his leadership and go into this debate and argue for multilateral disarmament.”
The change would have moved the party away from the mainstream political consensus on defense. Farron has expressed aspirations for the Lib Dems to return to government in a possible coalition after 2020, even though they lost almost all of their lawmakers in May’s election after spending five years as the junior partners in David Cameron’s Tory-led administration.
Farron, who became leader in July, opposed the motion, which demanded Britain’s existing nuclear weapons be scrapped, and called for the pause so a working group can be set up to consider the policy. It will report back to the conference in March 2017.
“I want to see a full and open consultation on this issue so that we can consider the threats we face and be completely clear on the options, implications and costs of any decisions,” Farron wrote on the Liberal Democrat Voice website. “We need to be absolutely sure that neither our security nor that of our neighbors is compromised by this decision. We also need to consider the implications for our foreign relations and our standing in the world.”