The Government has recently published a number of documents setting out its future priorities in foreign affairs, defence, and international development, such as the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy paper.
The Government may have to introduce new legislation to meet some of these priorities.
In March 2021, the Government published the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. In the review, the Government said it would “introduce new legislation to give security and intelligence agencies and police the powers they need to tackle the challenges we will face in the coming decade”. It outlined two specific pieces of legislation it would look to introduce:
- Legislation to counter state threats: This would revise existing offences and create new offences to criminalise other harmful activity conducted by, and on behalf of, states. It would also introduce a UK foreign agent registration scheme.
- A second global sanctions regime on corruption: This would give the UK powers to prevent those involved in corruption from freely entering the UK or channelling money through its financial system.
In addition, the Government outlined its intentions for future global relationships. It said that the US “will remain the UK’s most important strategic ally and partner” and that, between 2021 and 2030, the UK will “pursue deeper engagement” in the Indo-Pacific. It said that the UK’s goal is to be “the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific”.
In 2021, the UK is taking on the presidency of the G7. The Government has outlined its priorities for the UK’s presidency as:
- Leading the global recovery from coronavirus while strengthening resilience against future pandemics.
- Promoting the UK’s future prosperity by championing free and fair trade.
- Tackling climate change.
- Championing the UK’s shared values.
The UK will also host the G7 Summit in Cornwall, in June 2021.
In November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the Government was increasing defence spending by £24.1 billion over the next four years. He said that this increase would raise defence spending as a share of GDP to at least 2.2%.
As part of the announcement, the prime minster said that the increased spending would be used in part to take forward the Government’s plans for eight type 26 and five type 31 frigates.
In the integrated review, the Government said it would replace the UK’s existing nuclear warhead. It stated it would continue to give updates on this issue with an annual report to Parliament.
The Government also said that the UK would move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads. This is an increase on the previous goal, set by the Coalition Government in 2010, of a stockpile of no more than 180 warheads.
In recent months, the Government has indicated its intention to bring forward certain legislative measures related to defence. These bills concern:
- Armed forces: the Armed Forces Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 25 January 2021 and was subject to a carry-over motion on 8 February 2021. The bill would renew the Armed Forces Act 2006 for another five years and introduce some other measures, such as further incorporating the Armed Forces Covenant into law.
- Northern Ireland veterans: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, has stated that the Government was committed to introducing legislation to “address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland”. He said the bill would focus “on reconciliation, delivers for victims and ends the cycle of reinvestigations into the troubles in Northern Ireland, delivering on our commitments to Northern Ireland veterans”.
In addition, in the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, published in March 2021, the Government said that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is currently reviewing the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations (2011) and the Single Source Contract Regulations (2014). It stated that the MOD will publish a command paper in 2021 which will set out the process for reforming these areas, including any necessary legislative action.
International aid spending
On 26 November 2020, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated that the Government would reduce its international aid spending from 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) to 0.5% of GNI. He said the Government could not say when it would be able to next meet the 0.7% target, governed by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, but that the move was a temporary one brought about by the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. He said it would need to “bring forward legislation in due course”.
During a speech on 21 April 2021, Dominic Raab also set out the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) priority areas for international aid spending in 2021/22. Mr Raab stated that the FCDO was responsible for about 80% of the UK’s total official development assistance (ODA) budget. He outlined the budget allocations as:
- Climate and biodiversity (£534m)
- Global health security (£1,305m)
- Girls’ education (£400m)
- Humanitarian preparedness and response (£906m)
- Science and technology (£251m)
- Open societies and conflict resolution (£419m)
- Economic development and trade (£491m)
In addition to the UK’s ODA spending, the Government said in the integrated review that it will commit £11.6 billion to international climate finance.
International development strategy
On 26 January 2021, in a statement to the House of Commons about budget allocations, the foreign secretary said he would lead a cross-departmental review on a new development strategy to align UK aid with the objectives set out in the integrated review.
- Michael Moran, ‘The United Kingdom finally acknowledges its hard-power limits’, Foreign Policy, 16 April 2021
- House of Lords Library, ‘Integrated review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development’, 16 April 2021
- Richard Whitman, ‘UK sets its sights eastward’, Chatham House, 2 April 2021
- Will Jessett, Tom McKane and Peter Watkins, ‘The UK’s integrated review: how does it stack up?’, RUSI, 24 March 2021
- Steven Swinford, ‘New powers to kick out spies from hostile states as concerns mount over Russia and China’, Times (£), 19 April 2021
- Ministry of Defence, Defence in a Competitive Age, March 2021, CP 411
- Emil Dall, ‘UK sanctions policy: a progress report’, RUSI, 18 February 2021
- House of Commons Library, ‘The Armed Forces Bill 2019–21’, 3 February 2021
- Patrick Wintour, ‘UK aid cut seen as unforced error in “year of British leadership”’, Guardian, 23 April 2021
- House of Lords Library, ‘UK development aid and the Integrated Review’, 22 April 2021
- Sam Hughes et al, The UK’s Reduction in Aid Spending, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 12 April 2021
- Chris Patten, ‘UK funding cuts are a slap in the face for science’, Financial Times (£), 7 April 2021
Cover image by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.