Why the UK lifting its nuclear weapon stockpile cap is not what it seems, writes Robert Peston

  • Video report by ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

There is an an enormous amount of noise around the apparent statement, in the government's "Integrated Review", that the government is increasing its stockpile of nuclear warheads by more than a third.

But a close reading of what it says shows no such commitment at all.What the document says is: "In 2010, the government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s.

"However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads".

To be clear, the current stockpile of nuclear weapons is unknown. It is a state secret. But whatever it may be, we know (unless the government has been lying in the past) it is already "not more than" 260.

So zero change in the stock of warheads or even a reduction would be consistent with this promise. Why did Boris Johnson bother with the statement then?

Well, one former government member says there is some merit in sowing more uncertainty about our capability among actual and potential enemies.

Another ex-minister has a slightly more cynical take: "This is all about appearing to have a new direction after Brexit and adding in things which look significant" - but aren't really, on closer inspection.

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