For February now read Spring – whatever that means! Are we ever going to see publication of the much delayed Integrated Review process? You are entitled to wonder, just as you also are as to whether the left hand of government knows what the right hand is doing!
The so-called ‘Integrated Review of Foreign Policy, Security and Defence was originally supposed to have been published almost a year ago but, partly due to the C-19 pandemic and other quite probably sensible reasons, it was then delayed until the final quarter of last year.
That said, we did at least have agreement between the Cabinet Office, Treasury and MOD in respect of a four-year funding basis and what was termed by senior members of government as a huge increase in the defence budget to be spread over those years. We also learned that Space, Cyber and AI would be central to how the UK would be developing future defence capability.
But where and when will the full Integrated Review process finally emerge – indeed will the originally intended strategy ever emerge in the form intended? I suspect that it will but how much more damage will have been caused to the hugely important sovereign UK defence industry in the process and at what cost?
Jeremy Quin, Minister of State. Ministry of Defence said in answer to a written question submitted by the SNP MP Owen Thompson in respect of what the timeframe was in years of the once in a generation modernisation of the armed forces and what assessment has been made of the implications for defence spending of that timeframe:
“This is the largest investment into the UK’s Armed Forces since the end of the Cold War some thirty years ago. This record multi-year settlement provides an additional investment of £16.5 billion over four years. Combined with the manifesto commitment of a 0.5% uplift, the total increase for Defence is over £24 billion. The Defence Secretary will set out further details of Defence’s programme in the coming months.”
So, in the coming months implies publication of the Integrated Review or at least a further part of it implies maybe February or March. But before you get too excited see the answer to another written question – in this case from Tory MP Richard Fuller who asked (Secretary of State for Defence) “whether his Department had made an assessment of the design maturity of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and what the planned timescale is for providing design acceptance” to which Jeremy Quinn answered:
“A comprehensive suite of rigorous tests continues, with Design Acceptance due in autumn 2021. Design Acceptance consists of Reliability Growth Trials, which are 75% complete, and Qualification and Verification trials. The Qualification and Verification trials, designed to test the system requirements, have allowed the Army customer to accept 52% of the design to date, with 95% of the requirements due to be submitted and accepted by summer 2021.
HM Government is undertaking the deepest and most radical Review of Britain’s foreign, security, defence, and development policy since the end of the Cold War. Final decisions on Warrior, along with all Defence Capabilities will be subject to this Review. This will include prioritising the capabilities most suited to the evolving character of conflict and to our future defence and security requirements. We do not expect to conclude these deliberations until the spring.”
Depending on whether you use the meteorological or astronomical dates of March 1st or March 21st for the official start to Spring it would appear that if Mr. Quinn’s second answer on the same day is to be believed we have still got a very long wait for the publication of the Integrated Review.
Less than two weeks ago a suggestion by Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace that the Integrated Review might be published in the first couple of weeks of February was put down the following day by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, replying to a question asked by Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Commons Liaison Committee asking for confirmation that the review would be published in mid-February as planned, said that:
“I’ve got to hold your horses there – it won’t be as early as that…I’d say that is a little bit premature.”
And just a couple of day later note that out of the blue – surely by no coincidence to the matter in hand and what the PM had said in answer to Sir Bernard Jenkin, the former British National Security Advisor Sir Peter Ricketts put his spoke into the wheel by urging the government to put the brakes on its plan to complete the Integrated Review process until July! In normal circumstances, given that this is a man who played such a large hand in what finally emerged out of the SDSR 2010 process I would say simply that any more advice from him is unwelcome, but there we are!
House of Commons Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Elwood whose committee had suggested last year that the IR should be delayed and had also questioned how the review was being run, said recently:
“I would really encourage this Government to continue and conclude this important exercise. We’ve had a decade where our troops have been overstretched on demand, we’re using dated equipment as well. This was the opportunity to regroup but, more than that, it’s also to confirm our ambitions in the world, to check and understand our threats that we face and give clarity as to what our defence posture should be.”
And this very morning the Guardian reports that Sarah Champion, Labour chair of the International Development Select Committee, says that ““Our ambassadors have today been instructed by the Foreign Office to cut 50-70% from the aid budget.” Even though Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is apparently quoted as saying that he does not recognise the number, I share concerns that the suggestion made in the newspaper is probably true.
My point behind mentioning the foreign aid matter is that this too was supposed to be part of the Integrated Review process. We have had various dribs and drabs of what was supposed to be part of the integrated Review process already announced but one is bound to wonder whether the left hand of government knows what the right is doing.
For defence, we need strong, sound and affordable policies in relation to future procurement born out of a well thought through strategy. I am old enough and wise enough to know that we are not going to get that. In relation to Foreign Policy it is already perfectly clear that the intention that reviving Britain’s former strength in diplomacy and the need to show more presence internationally have been put on hold as being unaffordable.
As to publication of what will undoubtedly be seen as a much watered-down Integrated Review my answer is god knows when.
All this delay and uncertainty is not only very damaging to the military but it is equally so to the UK defence industrial base. Members of HMG may say with ease that they care about strengthening UK sovereign defence manufacturing capability but by their actions but sometimes I feel that the they couldn’t care less.
CHW (London 27th January 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785