The construction of warships for the Royal Navy is likely to be moved away from the Clyde and back to Portsmouth if Scotland votes for independence next year, a defence minister has told MPs.
Andrew Murrison rejected suggestions that only yards capable of carrying out the work are in Glasgow, telling the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that it would be possible to revive shipbuilding in the city after a Yes vote north of the border.
He added that there were other locations, such as Barrow, which might also be able to do the job with sufficient investment.
Workers on the Clyde celebrated last week when their shipyards were chosen over Portsmouth for the Royal Navy’s future shipbuilding needs.
But Defence Secretary Philip Hammond gave a clear indication that the decision could be reversed if Scotland breaks off from the UK, pointing out that Britain has never – outside of the world wars – bought advanced warships from abroad.
Plans to construct a new generation of Type 26 frigates are set to guarantee work in the Govan and Scotstoun yards until 2034, but the contract is not due to be finalised with BAE Systems until after the referendum date, placing a question mark over whether they will be built in Glasgow if Scots vote for independence.
Dr Murrison told the committee: ‘The government’s position is that we are not planning for a Yes vote... There is no intention of reversing any announcements.
‘The UK government is planning for the continuation of the UK and the Clyde is the right place to build complex platforms of this sort.’
But asked by committee chairman Ian Davidson whether the UK Government’s policy will remain that it wants ‘to retain sovereign capability for building warships in the event of separation’, Dr Murrison replied: ‘The straight answer to that of course is Yes. There’s no evasion at all.’
He added: ‘The important thing as far as we are concerned is that we retain sovereign capability – the ability to build complex platforms in the UK. That wouldn’t change in the event there was a Yes vote next year.’
Asked if the ‘residual UK’ – England, Wales and Northern Ireland – would be capable of building warships if it could no longer call upon Scotland, Dr Murrison said: ‘Of course we could build complex platforms in the residual UK. Portsmouth is certainly possible. You would have to invest, I suspect, significantly in complex platform building in Portsmouth.
‘I’m certainly not going to make any suggestions, but warship building is certainly under way in Portsmouth and you could suppose that in the event of a Yes vote next year, the residual UK might wish to continue building warships in Portsmouth.’