by Ray Fleming

Yesterday's unexpected announcement by Philip Hammond, the UK Defence Secretary, of a 350m pound investment in “expenditure for the next generation of nuclear-armed submarines” appears to prejudge the findings of a current Cabinet Office review of possible alternatives to a renewal of the four existing Trident submarines and also to ignore the coalition agreement that no decision would be made on Trident replacement until 2016. To confuse matters further, Mr Hammond's comment that “We are confident the Scottish people will choose to remain part of the UK” looks like a crude and possibly counter-productive attempt to mix Scottish independence referendum politics with national security.

It may be argued that last week's Edinburgh agreement between Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, on a referendum in 2014 makes necessary an early decision on the future of the four Trident nuclear-armed submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde; but even if that is so it is surely important that the Liberal Democrats in the coalition are in agreement with a policy change ln such an important matter. To judge by what Mr Clegg said yesterday, they have not been consulted.

Mr Hammond's reference to the government's “firm commitment to maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence for future decades” does not seem to allow much room for any alternative approach. Is this Mr Cameron's policy or just Mr Hammond's?