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Political Rebellion Over U.K. Nukes

A member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government resigned Monday to protest a multibillion-dollar plan to renew Britain's nuclear missile defense system.

Nigel Griffiths stepped down as deputy leader of the House of Commons so he can vote against the government on Wednesday in a key vote on extending the use of the Trident D5 missile until the early 2040s.

"I am resigning with a heavy heart but a clear conscience," Griffiths said in a statement after submitting his resignation letter to Blair.

Lawmakers from the ruling Labour Party are required to support the government in Wednesday's vote or face disciplinary measures.

Blair told parliament in December that the weapons ambitions of North Korea and Iran were proof of the enduring need for a defense system.

Opponents have argued the best way to encourage other nations to abandon their nuclear arsenals, and to deter others from seeking to develop programs, is to phase out the British stockpile, not replace it.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told members of the British parliament Wednesday that there was no parallel to be drawn between the United Kingdom's nuclear deterent, and the programs being persued by nations such as North Korea, which had overtly violated the terms of the international Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

"There is no legal or moral equivalent in their position and ours," Beckett said, suggesting that a British decision to abandon nuclear weaponry could not be relied upon to deter other nations from their own ambitions.

Griffiths' resignation highlights the difficulties Blair faces in securing parliamentary approval for his plans to build a new generation of V-class submarines to carry Trident nuclear missiles.

The proposal is expected to cost around $40 billion.

With a large-scale rebellion expected within Blair's party — which was committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament in the early 1980s — the prime minister may need to rely on support from opposition Conservative lawmakers to win Wednesday's vote.

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Four peace activists scaled a crane next to the Houses of Parliament Tuesday to protest the government plans to update the Trident system.

The Greenpeace campaigners clambered up the crane next to Big Ben and unfurled a 50-foot banner suggesting Prime Minister Tony Blair loved weapons of mass destruction.

"We can't oppose proliferation of WMD if we're building them at home," one of the activists on the crane, Cat Dorey, said.

Many British citizens who supported the Labour Party felt abandoned by Blair's support of President Bush and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The political cost to the prime minister has been tremendous.

Wednesday's vote will likely serve to further anger many Labour backers who see the party's leader making decisions they consider to be more in line with the opposition.

Blair also had to rely on members of the opposition Conservative party to approve his plan to join the war in Iraq.

A decision on whether Britain will build a new arsenal of nuclear warheads to replace current stocks — expected to remain in service until the 2020s — would not be taken before 2009, Blair has said.

Britain's existing submarine fleet will be phased out from 2022 and replacement vessels will take 17 years to build, defense officials said.

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