UK Politics

Johnson promises 'overhaul' of post-Brexit foreign policy as he launches review

British troops in Latvia Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UK has one of the largest defence budgets in the world

The UK is to "overhaul its approach to foreign policy" as part of a government review, Downing Street has announced.

No 10 says insights from internal and external experts will challenge "traditional Whitehall assumptions".

The diplomatic service, tackling organised crime, the use of technology and the procurement of military supplies will all be looked at.

The review will also seek "innovative ways" to promote UK interests while committing to spending targets.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised that the UK would continue to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international aid. The party also said it would exceed the Nato target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence.

Boris Johnson's new government faces a number of foreign policy challenges including securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian recently predicted the two sides would "rip each other apart" during negotiations which are due to begin on Monday.

The UK is also hoping to secure a trade deal with the US but relations have been strained by the prime minister's decision to use Huawei to build the 5G network in the face of US opposition.

The government is also keen to strengthen ties with China, but some of the prime minister's own MPs - including Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat - have cautioned against allowing Chinese companies' heavy involvement in projects such as the 5G network and HS2.

'Constructive challenge'

Setting out details of the Integrated Review - first announced in December's Queen's Speech - Number 10 said Brexit presented "new opportunities to define and strengthen Britain's place in the world".

Its remit, as set out by the government, is to:

  • define the government's ambition for the UK's role in the world
  • set out the way in which the UK will be a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation
  • determine the capabilities needed for the next decade and beyond to pursue objectives and address threats
  • identify the necessary reforms to government systems and structures to achieve these goals

In a written statement, the prime minister said a cross-Whitehall team in the Cabinet Secretariat and a "small taskforce" in Number 10 will report to him and the National Security Council during the review.

"The review will be closely aligned with this year's Comprehensive Spending Review but will also look beyond it," he said in the statement.

Experts "beyond Whitehall" in the UK and "among our allies" will be consulted, Mr Johnson said, and Parliament will be kept "fully informed".

The review is expected to conclude later this year.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The UK is seeking to negotiate a new trade deal with both the US and the EU

The government says 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".

The UK's last full-scale security and defence review was completed in late 2015, before the UK voted to leave the EU.

But Mr Tugendhat suggested it had been more than 20 years since a British government comprehensively reviewed its foreign policy objectives and the "tools" needed to achieve them.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today it would premature to speculate on whether any "rejigging" of defence and aid priorities would result in cuts to manpower in any of the armed services.

"We all know that the fundamental decisive factor in battle, whether that is in sea, land or air, is people. It is basically draining the resources of your enemy and undermining their ability to fight," he said.

"That can be done in different ways - sometimes it is done by infantry soldiers... sometimes it is done by ships denying access to areas or protecting convoys and sometimes it is done by RAF pilots flying drones... All of these are different tools."

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