No.10 urged to clarify who is leading major defence review

Call made as review calls for evidence submission
Ben Stansall/PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson’s wide-ranging review of the UK’s defence capabilities risks being undermined by a lack of transparency about who is leading it, a committee of MPs have warned.

A report by the Defence Select Committee said the ongoing Integrated Review, which was launched by the prime minister earlier this year to overhaul Britain’s approach to foreign policy, “may be the most important that the UK has conducted since the 1940s“.

But the group of MPs is calling on the government to set out what role the No.10 policy unit and advisers like Dominic Cummings will play in the process, as they criticised a “behind closed doors” approach from No.10.

Published on the day that the review, based in the Cabinet Office, issued a call for evidence, the committee

The integrated review was launched by the PM in February, with the government promising “the largest review of the UK’s foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War”.

While it was delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic, the review has since restarted, with the Cabinet Office unit leading on the review issuing a call for evidence today.

The group of MPs said that more clarity was needed on the process, including “how and when” Boris Johnson himself will become involved.

The report said it is “vitally important that the Review includes wide and deep external consultation”.

Drawing on a wide range of experts from outside Whitehall will give “a challenge function to the Government’s understanding” of major foreign police issues and boost the “legitimacy of the review’s outcomes”, the committee said.

Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP, said: “The Defence Committee, alongside colleagues in the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees, have repeatedly called for clarity and transparency from the government.

“These calls have, at times, been left unanswered. A number of unknowns remain, including the key players at the heart of the Review.

“A policy review of this importance should not take place behind closed doors.

“The committee system should not be viewed as an adversary of Government, but instead as a constructive critic and contributor.

“We hope that this report aids the government in its approach to the Integrated Review; it is in all of our interest that this Review is a success.”

The MPs also say that holding extra defence reviews outside of the usual five-year process “risks undermining the credibility of the UK’s security and defence policy and creates undue uncertainty for UK defence planners”.

The government has previously “said it will utilise expertise from both inside and outside government for the review, ensuring the UK’s best foreign policy minds are feeding into its conclusions and offering constructive challenge to traditional Whitehall assumptions and thinking”.

A version of this story first appeared on CSW's sister title PoliticsHome.

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