The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes an opinion poll commissioned by Abolition 2000 UK which shows that a full 75% of UK adults think the Government should be represented at nuclear disarmament talks due to begin at the United Nations next week. Only 9% said the Government should not attend and 16% were undecided. (1)
This comes after the Government confirmed in a Parliamentary answer to the Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas MP that not only would minsters boycott this important conference, but they would not even send Foreign Office civil servants to it. (2)
The conference at the UN in New York was agreed by over two thirds of UN member states in December, following ongoing frustration at the intransigence of nuclear weapon states stalling talks in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conferences. The March conference follows information that has been gleaned from previous UN conferences on the dire humanitarian consequences if a nuclear weapon was ever used today. The conference will take place in March / April and then again in June / July and will consider the development of an international treaty to ban the use of nuclear weapons. In May there will also be a Preparatory Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in UN buildings in Vienna, which the UK will attend. NFLA, through its support of ICAN (International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) and the Mayors for Peace will have a presence at these conferences.
The Abolition 2000 opinion poll unsurprisingly found that most people in the UK are unaware of the nuclear negotiations about to start in New York. This is unsurprising as there has been next to no coverage of these matters in the print or broadcast media, in comparison to media in other countries.
What is particularly interesting is that the opinion poll showed that among those who voted Conservative in 2015, 79% are in favour of the Government taking part in these negotiations. Those who voted Labour were equally adamant at 79%. In terms of age, those who most want to see the Government contribute to nuclear disarmament worldwide are aged 65 and over, many of whom who can still remember the horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing, as well as the radioactive contamination caused by atmospheric tests of the 1950s. Amongst younger people there was a higher percentage of ‘don’t knows’, but they were still over 70% in favour of the UK actively taking part in the conference.
Despite the decision to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme last year, the UK Government has a clear policy of supporting multilateral nuclear disarmament. It seems to NFLA churlish and counter-productive for the government to boycott this conference. In contrast, the NFLA welcomes the highly active involvement of the Republic of Ireland Government in this process, which keeps with the long-standing cross-party support in Ireland to seek to ban nuclear weapons. (3) NFLA notes the Chinese and Indian Governments are expected to attend the conference and is therefore particularly disappointed the UK has followed the same course of some other nuclear weapon states.
NFLA is disappointed with the lack of media interest in the UK to this important opinion poll. It is important to inform the public that the large majority of countries in the world are calling for nuclear disarmament.
NFLA are supporting a joint initiative of disarmament groups writing to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to rethink the UK’s attendance at the conference in light of this opinion poll. (4)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
This opinion poll clearly shows that the British public want to see its government take seriously the urgent need for multilateral nuclear disarmament. Such support for active engagement is as strong with Conservative supporters as for those of other political parties. NFLA believe it is essential to talk and negotiate for nuclear disarmament. It calls on Boris Johnson to think again and attend the upcoming conference, or at the very least send officials to it. Boycotting such talks sends out a worrying precedent at a time when the likes of North Korea are unilaterally trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme, with all the risks entailed in that. You can’t claim moral superiority if you don’t turn up to the meetings.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Abolition 2000 UK media release, 20th March 2017.
(2) The Independent, 15th March 2017, ‘UN nuclear disarmament talks: UK Government not attending discussions labelled ‘reckless and irresponsible’ by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/un-nuclear-disarmament-talks-uk-government-not-attend-caroline-lucas-mp-reckless-irresponsible-123-a7631546.html
(3) Irish Times, 18th March 2017, ‘Ireland is right to lead the way against nuclear weapons’ http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/world-view-ireland-is-right-to-lead-way-against-nuclear-weapons-1.2854643
(4) The joint ICAN UK led letter will be submitted to the Foreign Secretary on the 24th March.