David Cameron's claim that the UK needs nuclear weapons to defend itself from North Korea has been dismissed as "absurd" by a former Conservative defence secretary.
Speaking to The Times, Michael Portillo said the prime minister's decision to invoke the current tensions in the Korean peninsula to defend the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent did not make sense.
“It remains to me absurd to believe that the United Kingdom would use its nuclear weapons against North Korea,” he said.
“To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case."
Portillo, who served as defence secretary in the mid-1990s under John Major said the deterrence provided by the United States' nuclear arsenal was all that was needed.
“I am not opposed to nuclear deterrents. I believe in them. But I don’t believe in the modern world it is necessary for Britain to have one," he said.
On Thursday the prime minister said it would "foolish" to leave the country defenceless at a time when the "highly unpredictable and aggressive" regime in North Korea was developing ballistic missiles which could eventually threaten Europe.
His comments have been compared to the Labour government's suggestion in 2002 that Saddam Hussain could have attacked British bases in Cyprus with weapons of mass destruction within "45 minutes".
The case for replacing the fleet of Royal Navy submarines that carry the Trident nuclear missiles also splits the coalition.
While Tory MPs mostly want to see the UK maintain its nuclear capability, the Lib Dems have questioned the expense of replacing the fleet.
Lib Dem MP Sir Malcolm Bruce said he was concerned about funds being diverted away from conventional military equipment to pay for Trident.
"We do accept the case for a nuclear deterrent and we are not in favour of unilateral disarmament," he told Sky News yesterday.
"We are saying we shouldn't replace Trident on a like-for-like basis but we are looking at alternative nuclear deterrents once Trident has passed its sell-by date."