A new treaty will ban nuclear weapons

By Gaynor Lloyd

Waking unreasonably early this morning, having forgotten the clocks go back an hour, I was struggling to greet the day with cheer. Then I heard the news headlines: the 50th state, Honduras, had just ratified a treaty.  To ban nuclear weapons.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) opened for signature three years ago. It’s a treaty that will make nuclear weapons illegal in the countries that sign it. The treaty needed 50 countries to ratify it before it before it could come into force – and overnight that milestone was reached.

CND general Secretary Kate Hudson noted: “This is a sea change in international law; never before have nuclear weapons been illegal.”

The treaty will come into force on January 22nd 2021. Shamefully the UK government refused to even participate in the treaty talks and now says it will never sign. The US has written to signatories, telling them they have made “a strategic error” and urging them to rescind their ratification. The Guardian dismissed the achievement as “essentially symbolic”, as the world’s nuclear powers have not signed up to the agreement.

But, for me, what is crucial is what Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish lawyer and executive director of the  Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons, said:  “Decades of activism have achieved what many said was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned.”

Campaigners hope this treaty will be a first rock in an avalanche of change, similar to that achieved by previous treaties on chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions, stigmatising their use, changing states’ behaviour and discouraging financial institutions from funding the building of these weapons of terror.

CND stated: “This historic agreement will no doubt generate international momentum towards global nuclear abolition. The treaty is a breakthrough in international disarmament efforts and will be of enormous support in achieving the goal that most of the world shares: that there is no place for these weapons of mass destruction.”

But for me this is personal. I remember a beautiful sunny day outside Parliament in June 2018, a culmination of weeks of discussion and planning – when a 39-strong bunch of Trident Ploughshares activists from all over the country – including my beloved Mad Hatters Affinity group (fellow Arms Fair lock-ons) – strolled up, unveiled our T-shirts, and locked ourselves onto the railings outside Parliament. The aim was to publicise and seek ratification of the Treaty by the government. At that stage, there were only twelve “ratifying” states” of the 50 states needed.

It was a joyous day of solidarity in action – and a great opportunity to get the message out. And, as ever in a lifetime of attempted activism, even if I might not have got very far, at least I’ve got the T-shirt.

Today is so emotional for me, as I get out my T-shirt from that June day, and see if some of we Mad Hatters can go mark the occasion. If we do, I know that we will all be desperate to have big rejoicing hugs – but another relevant ban will prevail. At least, though, we can remember all those times we took action together, which applied the pressure that got us to this point.

Solidarity works. Hope exists.

Gaynor Lloyd is a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Brent and a member of Trident Ploughshares.

Towns and cities around the world are bypassing their governments’ opposition and becoming Nuclear Ban Communities as they sign up to support the treaty. Find out more here.  Parliamentary CND is hosting a public webinar to discuss progress with the treaty. Find out more here.

Image: Trident Ploughshares lock-on at Parliament, June 2018, by Keith Perrin.