U.K. Liberal Democrats Said to Demand Scaling Back of Trident

The junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government may call for Britain to give up its permanent at-sea nuclear deterrent, a person familiar with the policy said.

The Liberal Democrats have been examining alternatives to the Trident weapons program in preparation for the 2015 general election. The party may propose mothballing two of the four submarines that carry Trident, ending the U.K.’s ability to keep nuclear weapons at sea at all times.

The proposal, which some Liberal Democrats want to apply from 2016, would keep two of the existing BAE Systems Plc Vanguard submarines in port with skeleton crews and used for spare parts to keep the remaining boats operational, the person said on condition of anonymity because the report has yet to be published. The Royal Navy says four vessels are needed to maintain at least one at sea at all times.

The Trident issue has dogged relations in the coalition, with Cameron’s Conservatives favoring a like-for-like replacement at a cost of about 20 billion pounds ($30.4 billion.) The Liberal Democrats say billions of pounds can be saved by scaling back the program. A decision must be taken by 2016.

With Cameron’s Tories trailing the opposition Labour Party in the polls, the Liberal Democrats may once again hold the balance of power after the 2015 election. Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has said he is already looking at policy “red lines” that must be included in future coalition negotiations. A government review of options, undertaken at the request of the Liberal Democrats, is due to be published this month.

“While the review doesn’t come to any conclusions, I think when we publish the results in a few weeks’ time people will see that there are choices available to this country, there are alternatives where we can move on from the Cold War postures of the past,” Liberal Democrat lawmaker Danny Alexander, who led the review, told BBC Television on June 30.

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