The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an ICAN partner organization in Britain, brought together an estimated 70,000 people in London on Saturday (27 February) for what was dubbed the country’s biggest anti-nuclear weapons rally in a generation.
Demonstrators demanded that the government “scrap Trident”, a reference to its ageing fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, which carry a total of up to 215 nuclear warheads. As ICAN’s Tim Wright wrote in a letter in the Guardian newspaper:
“This public uprising against Trident comes at a time when the majority of the world’s nations are engaged in diplomatic talks to negotiate a new legal instrument outlawing nuclear weapons. Britain, like other nuclear-armed nations, has chosen to boycott this UN-mandated process.”
On the morning of the march, a joint letter from senior health professionals, coordinated by ICAN partner organization Medact, was published in the conservative Telegraph newspaper. It pointed out:
“The International Red Cross Red Crescent movement, the World Medical Association and other health organizations have called for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons because they contravene humanitarian law and pose unacceptable risks to humanity.”
There was strong cross-party support for the event, with inspirational speeches from three party leaders: Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon, and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. Caroline Lucas of the Green Party also spoke.
Many speakers mentioned the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need for Britain to adhere to its international obligations to disarm and support moves towards a new global ban treaty.
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, said: “The use of nuclear weapons would bring about suffering on an imaginable scale … How can we expect other countries to disarm when we say nuclear weapons are essential for our security?”
Leanne Wood stated that “it is never acceptable to use nuclear weapons” and they “belong in the dustbin of history”. Caroline Lucas called for Britain to “stop hiding behind rhetoric of deterrence – Trident is a weapon of mass destruction in breach of international law”.
Citing research from Scientists for Global Responsibility, Lucas also pointed out that Trident has more firepower than all the weapons used in World War II and could kill tens of millions of people: “Right now the UK is boycotting new multilateral disarmament talks in Geneva. This is completely unacceptable.” (See also her article published the same day.)
Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s opposition leader, spoke about the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and his participation in the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in December 2014.
Saying that no one should forget the “absolute mass destruction on both sides” that would follow a nuclear attack and reiterating his “total horror of nuclear weapons”, he went on to state: “I want to see a Labour government that would adhere to all the articles of the non-proliferation treaty.”
A multi-faith statement on nuclear weapons was read out, declaring: “Any use of nuclear weapons would have devastating humanitarian consequences, be incompatible with international humanitarian law and violate the principle of dignity for every human being that is common to each of our faith traditions.”
Veteran disarmament campaigner Bruce Kent told the crowd: “We are on the verge of real nuclear disarmament in this world – don’t give up now.” And Sharon Dolev, founder and director of ICAN partner organization the Israeli Disarmament Movement, concluded: “We can achieve a nuclear ban all around the world – we can and we must.”
ICAN and its many partner organizations in the United Kingdom were at the march in large numbers, including health professionals from Medact, cyclists from Wheel Stop Trident, many faith groups, Scientists for Global Responsibility, and some huge Scottish CND puppets that caught a very early train from Glasgow.
The Trident demonstration on Saturday was impressive – evidence that the space for debate about nuclear weapons has opened up a lot in the United Kingdom.
By Rebecca Sharkey