Defence and foreign policy review to look at how 'whole of government can be structured'

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Beckie Smith on 26 February 2020 in News
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Integrated review will "go beyond the parameters of a traditional review", No.10 says

Boris Johnson and defence secretary Ben Wallace visit military personnel on Salisbury Plain training area. Photo: Ben Stansall/PA Wire/PA Images

The prime minister has kicked off a cross-government review of defence, security and foreign policy that he said would “go beyond” previous reviews by examining "how the whole of government can be structured" to meet global challenges.

The “integrated review” will examine all elements of policy in the three areas, including the role of the diplomatic service and the development of the armed forces and security agencies, Boris Johnson announced today.

No.10 also confirmed that the review would also look at defence procurement – seen as a major target for reform by the prime minister’s most senior adviser adviser Dominic Cummings.


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Whitehall has previously been subject to two Strategic Defence and Security Reviews since 2010 which have been more narrowly focused on defence policy and whether or not the Ministry of Defence has the tools for the job. The most recent, in 2015, led to a £12bn increase for defence equipment spending.

But, while Downing Street said the new exercise would “determine the capabilities we need for the next decade”, it will also draw on the work of a much wider range of government departments, including the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, the Home Office, Treasury, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

"The review will be policy-led and will go beyond the parameters of a traditional review by considering the totality of global opportunities and challenges the UK faces and determining how the whole of government can be structured, equipped and mobilised to meet them," No.10 said in an announcement.

It will be led by a cross-Whitehall team in the Cabinet Office and a second team of civil service and external experts in Downing Street. Decisions on the review will be made by the National Security Council, chaired by the prime minister.

Launching the review, Johnson said he was “determined to lead a government that delivers for our people – both at home and abroad”.

He added: “The UK’s institutions, expertise, leadership and values are renowned around the world.

“But we cannot rest on our laurels. We must do more to adapt. We will be judged by how we respond to the opportunities ahead.

“As the world changes we must move with it – harnessing new technologies and ways of thinking to ensure British foreign policy is rooted firmly in our national interests, now and in the decades ahead.”

The announcement follows a general election campaign promise by Johnson in December to launch “the biggest review of our defence, security and foreign policy since the end of the cold war” within 100 days of winning the vote.

In January, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the Queen’s Speech that set out the government’s agenda, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the review would be “an opportunity for us to reassess the ways we engage on the global stage, including in defence, diplomacy and our approach to development, to ensure we have a fully integrated strategy”.

The Conservative manifesto commits the government to spending 2% of Britain’s gross domestic product on defence and 0.7% of gross national income on international development.

No.10 made clear that these two goals would be maintained, but said the review would “seek new and innovative ways to promote our interests overseas while continuing to commit” to them.

The Times reports that the review will not be “cost neutral”, with the Ministry of Defence in line for a spending boost as part of the plans. 

But the paper cites a Downing Street source who said that external experts will be brought in to challenge “traditional Whitehall assumptions and thinking”.   

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Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Beckie Smith
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Matt Honeycombe-Foster is news editor of CSW 's sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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