After 'Brexit,' UK might need to move nukes from Scotland

As the rest of the world processes the fact that the U.K. is now leaving the European Union, there’s a real chance that Scotland might leave the U.K and take the base where the U.K. maintains an arsenal of 160 deployed nuclear warheads on 58 Trident missiles with them.

The ballistic missile submarine HMS ‘Vanguard’ alongside the ‘Type 45’ destroyer HMS ‘Dragon’ in 2010. Royal Navy photo

The ballistic missile submarine HMS ‘Vanguard’ alongside the ‘Type 45’ destroyer HMS ‘Dragon’ in 2010. Royal Navy photo

Many Scottish politicians supported leaving the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was defeated in an approximately 45 percent vs. 55 percent vote. The “Yes” camp, which asked voters to say, “Yes, Scotland should be an independent country,” pledged to get rid of Britain’s nuclear submarines within the first term of a Scottish president. When the measure was defeated, it allowed the Royal Navy to breathe a sigh of relief. But the issue is coming around again.

While the U.K. as a whole narrowly voted to leave the EU on Jun. 23 in the “Brexit” referendum, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. Every single council area in Scotland, roughly similar to a precinct in the U.S., voted in favor of the EU and 62 percent of the popular vote was for staying in. That has led Scottish politicians who backed the first Scottish independence referendum to call for a new vote.

HMS Vanguard royal navy

“Bye, bye HMS Vanguard”(Photo: Defence Imagery)

That will leave voters trying to decide whether to remain part of the EU, which 62 percent of the Scottish population supported, or to remain part of Britain, which only 55 percent of the population supported. While there’s no guarantee that Scotland would leave if a new referendum is held, it is likely that a “Yes” vote would force Britain to move all four of its nuclear submarines to a new base. And that would be a huge problem.

Estimates in 2014 said that it would take Britain 10 years and 3 billion pounds that it doesn’t have to relocate the base. So, the Royal Navy began looking at alternatives. The best and easiest for the U.K. would be if they could negotiate a deal to lease the base from Scotland, but that would likely fail since many members of the independence movement want all nuclear weapons off Scottish soil. The next best option would be for England to send all their warheads, their sub crews, and the submarines themselves to Georgia. Yes, that Georgia, the state just north of Florida.

American politicians promised support of the plan in 2014. If it came up again in 2017, there’s a decent chance Congress would go for it since the British nuclear deterrent is part of the NATO nuclear deterrent. Besides that, Britain has few options. France could be a possibility, assuming that the French people don’t take Brexit too personally. Britain’s strong status in NATO could potentially get it four parking spots in a Baltic port, but then it would have the constant headache of its submarines being within range of a Russian invasion.

It’s still too early to tell if Scotland will actually vote to leave, especially since its admittance into the EU would not be guaranteed. If it did leave the U.K. over Brexit though, the Royal Navy would be facing a list of bad options.