This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 18 December 2022
This is an exceptionally challenging time for Britain’s foreign and security policy. Many of the assumptions underpinning the Integrated Review (IR) have been found to hold true. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other geopolitical developments there is a case for an update. However, the Government will need to make some considerable changes or be prepared to fill in some of the gaps of the IR in more detail to justify this use of resources.
The Integrated Review designated China as a “systemic competitor”. Strong language that is not coupled by action does nothing to alleviate confusion, and risks increasing uncertainty and undermining our credibility. We would support the Government changing the language from “systemic competitor” to “threat” if it were accompanied by carefully calibrated and proportionate policy change rather than empty rhetoric.
For the foreseeable future, China will continue to be a systemic competitor and also an essential partner to the UK. The UK will need to continue to compete with China in some areas while cooperating in others. When updating the Integrated Review, the Government should address the sustainability of this approach. The long-term goal must be to foster greater resilience and economic diversification, so that in the future the UK has the freedom to choose its actions in response to any aggression or human rights abuses by the PRC. If we are resilient to the PRC’s weaponisation of supply chains, we can be more effective on the world stage as a global player.
The Integrated Review lacked detail on the future of the UK’s relationship with its European partners and the EU. The renewed illegal invasion of Ukraine has altered the dynamics of European politics and provided a clearer lens through which to view UK-Europe security relations. The IR will need to clarify the nature of the UK’s security relationship with key European partners and the EU.
The Integrated Review was right to highlight the UK’s increasing interest in the Indo-Pacific. However, the word “tilt” has sent the wrong message to the international community; while increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific, the Government cannot afford to be seen to tilt away from the Euro-Atlantic. The Government should explain if, and how, it expects the UK to contribute to European security while maintaining the Indo-Pacific tilt, particularly at a time of considerably constrained resources.
The language of the Integrated Review and UK actions since its publication suggest that the Government is tilting away from the Middle East. We acknowledge the trade-offs involved in prioritising other regions, but the Government should be careful to avoid any perception of disengagement from fragile countries. The Government needs to be transparent about whether it intends to deprioritise the Middle East and, if so, how it will continue to promote peace and stability in these regions with fewer resources. Instability overseas poses a threat to UK citizens at home.