Emily Thornberry, the shadow defence secretary, is to have ultimate responsibility for Labour’s defence review looking at its policy on Trident - with more sway than Ken Livingstone, party sources have said.
The terms of the review have yet to be released but it is understood Thornberry will lead the policy assessment rather than Livingstone, who last year became co-convenor of the policy commission on defence.
Labour is expected to announce the terms and process of the review in the coming days, amid signs Jeremy Corbyn wants to steer the party towards a more anti-Trident policy and after several controversial interventions by the former London mayor.
Livingstone, an ally of Corbyn, had claimed that he and Thornberry would try to complete the defence review within eight weeks. “We will desperately try to do it as rapidly as possible,” he told the BBC’s Newsnight.
“So we will focus on the Trident issue ahead of the rest of the defence review … With a bit of luck that can be done in eight to 10 weeks. It will take a lot of work for me and Emily [Thornberry], but that’s good.”
However, party sources strongly denied Livingstone’s claim that the work was being speeded up in any way, that Trident would be separated out, or that the review would be ready in time for the parliamentary vote.
If the defence report is not concluded in time for the Commons debate on Trident, it is possible Corbyn could instead argue that the policy is under active review and therefore the old pro-Trident policy agreed at the party’s last autumn conference is no longer valid.
He has already cleared the way for a change in policy by replacing Maria Eagle, who supports renewal of Trident, with Thornberry, who shares his view on opposing the nuclear weapons programme.
The Labour leader has also hinted he would like to use a survey of party members to bolster his case for opposing renewal of Trident in parliament.
In a sign of the strongly divided views within the Labour party on the subject, several shadow cabinet ministers have hinted they could resign if forced to vote against Trident renewal. However, Corbyn has made clear he respects differences over the policy within the party and could end up offering a free vote in a similar format to the Syria debate but without allowing colleagues to take an opposing position from the front bench.
The majority of the shadow cabinet and trade unions, including Unite and the GMB, are in favour of the programme, largely because so many jobs depend on construction of the new nuclear submarines.
Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, also told Labour MPs this week that Corbyn could not change the policymaking rules of the party, to ensure the membership are consulted, without getting permission from the autumn conference.
Livingstone’s interventions on the subject have also infuriated some pro-Trident backbench Labour MPs.
Kevan Jones, who resigned as shadow defence minister when Eagle was replaced, told PoliticsHome: “I find it remarkable that he is suggesting this – if it had been Tony Blair or Gordon Brown talking about changing party policy like this he would be arguing it was undemocratic.”
Sir Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB, also warned Corbyn on Monday that his union would fight to ensure that the Labour party maintained its support for the Trident nuclear weapons programme.
Kenny said Corbyn had “another shock coming” if he tried to change party rules to introduce a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The union leader said rules that decreed the Labour conference had the ultimate say over party policy must be followed.
Separately, Corbyn made further changes to his shadow ministerial team on Thursday, with Kate Osamor appointed to shadow women and equalities, Thangam Debbonaire taking on shadow culture and Imran Hussainappointedas shadow development minister.
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