– in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 13th March 2023.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the 2023 integrated review refresh. I smile because it is a genuine delight to see you back in this House and back in your place.
Two years ago, the Government’s integrated review set out a clear strategy on how the UK would continue to thrive in a far more competitive age. Our approach is the most comprehensive since the end of the cold war. It laid out how we would bring together the combined might of every part of Government to ensure that our country remains safe, prosperous and influential into the 2030s. The conclusions of that review have run as a golden strategic thread through all of our activities across defence and deterrence, diplomacy, trade and investment, intelligence, security, international development, and science and technology over the past two years.
Our overall analysis was right, and our strategic ambition is on track. On every continent of the world, the United Kingdom walks taller today than it has done for many years. We are meeting our obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a leading European ally within an expanding NATO. We have strong relationships with our neighbours in Europe, and we will build on the Windsor framework to invigorate those relationships even further. We are deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific and active in Africa, and enjoy thriving relationships with countries in the middle east and the Gulf.
As I am sure this House recalls, today is Commonwealth Day, and I will be meeting my fellow Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in London over the course of the week.
We have maintained our position as a global leader on international development by pursuing patient, long-term partnerships tailored to the needs of our partner countries, and we succeed because those partnerships draw on the full range of UK strengths and expertise, in addition to our official development assistance. As this House will of course be aware, the severe global turbulence forecast in the 2021 integrated review has indeed come to pass, but events have moved at an even quicker pace than anyone could have imagined just two years ago. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attempts to annex part of its sovereign territory challenge the entire international order. Across the world, state threats have grown and systematic competition has intensified. There is a growing prospect of further deterioration in the coming years.
Due to the far-reaching consequences for the security and prosperity of the British people that these changes have brought, it is right that I update the House on what the Government are doing to respond. In our “Integrated Review Refresh 2023”, we set out how we respond to an even more contested and volatile world. Rightly, our approach is an evolution, not a revolution. I know that the House will agree that our most pressing foreign policy priority is the threat that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine poses for European security.
The UK has provided huge quantities of military support for Ukraine’s defence. We led the G7 response on Ukraine, co-ordinating diplomatic activity and working with our allies to impose the toughest ever sanctions on Putin’s Government. Thanks to the wisdom of this Government’s original integrated review, we have intensified our training for thousands of brave Ukrainian troops, who repelled Russia’s initial onslaught. That momentum must be maintained until Ukraine prevails and the wider threat that Russia and other states, such as Iran or North Korea, pose to the international order with their aggression or potential aggression is contained.
The 2023 integrated review refresh also sets out how the Government will approach the challenges presented by China. China’s size and significance connect it to almost every global issue, but we cannot be blind to the increasingly aggressive military and economic behaviour of the Chinese Communist party, including stoking tensions across the Taiwan strait and attempts to strong-arm partners, most recently Lithuania. We will increase our national security protections and ensure alignment with our core allies and a wider set of international partners. We must build on our own and our allies’ resilience to cyber-threats, manipulation of information, economic instability and energy shocks so that we remain at the front of the race for technologies such as fusion power, which will define not only the next decade, but the rest of this century.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say more on Government spending commitments in his Budget statement on Wednesday, but today I can set out a number of immediate and longer-term measures that will help us to deliver on our priorities. We will increase defence spending by a further £5 billion over the next two years. That will bring us to around 2.25% of national income and represents significant progress in meeting our long-term minimum defence spending target of 2.5% of GDP. Today’s announcement of £5 billion comes on top of the commitments made by the Chancellor in his autumn statement, on top of the £560 million of new investments last year, and on top of the record £20 billion uplift announced in 2020.
Later today, the Prime Minister will announce, alongside President Biden and Prime Minister Albanese, the next steps for AUKUS, including how we will deliver multibillion-pound conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine capabilities to the Royal Australian Navy while setting the highest proliferation standards.
We will provide an additional £20 million uplift to the BBC World Service over the next two years, protecting all 42 World Service language services.
We have established a new directorate in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, incorporating the Government information cell, to increase our capacity to assess and counter hostile information manipulation by actors, including Russia and China, where it affects UK interests overseas.
We will double funding for Chinese expertise and capacities in government so that we have more Mandarin speakers and China experts. We will create a new £1 billion integrated security fund to deliver critical programmes at home and overseas on key priorities such as economic and cyber-security, counter-terrorism, and the battle to uphold and defend human rights.
We will establish a new national protective services authority located within MI5. It will provide UK businesses and other organisations with immediate access to expert security advice. A new £50 million economic deterrence initiative will strengthen sanctions enforcement and impact, and will give us new tools to respond to hostile acts. We will publish the UK’s first semiconductor strategy, which will grow our domestic industry for that vital technology, as well as an updated critical minerals strategy.
The 2023 integrated review reconfirms that the UK will play a leading role in upholding stability, security and the prosperity of our continent and the Euro-Atlantic as a whole. It underlines that this Government’s investment in our Indo-Pacific strategy is yielding significant results across defence, diplomacy and trade. Through those initiatives and many others that we have set out over the past two years, the United Kingdom will out-compete those who seek to destabilise the international order and undermine global stability. Our approach is imbued with a spirit of international co-operation and a pragmatic willingness to work with any country that does not seek to undermine our way of life.
We live in a competitive age, and the security challenges that the British people face today are the most serious in at least a generation. Time and again in our history, we have seen off the competition from countries that wish to do us no good. We were able to do so because the United Kingdom has always had more allies, and better allies, than any of our rivals or competitors. It will always be the policy of this Government to ensure that that remains the case. I commend the statement to the House.
It is very good to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
Just over a year ago, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine marked a watershed moment for European security. In the time since, 25 NATO countries have revisited their security strategies. Germany announced a fundamental shift in its security policy. Finland and Sweden have taken the historic decision to join NATO. For a year, Labour has urged the Government to revisit the integrated review, so this announcement is overdue but welcome.
We are living in an era of intensifying geopolitical competition in a multipolar world. The interdependence of the global economy is increasingly being weaponised. There has been a blurring of the distinction between foreign and domestic policy. This is a challenging moment for our security and that of our allies, and for our place in the world. The refreshed integrated review, and the decisions that it will inform, are therefore important to us all in this House. We all have an interest in the Government making the right long-term choices for our country.
Any future Labour Government will inherit the consequences of those decisions. Since the invasion, the Government have had our fullest support in providing military, economic and diplomatic support for Ukraine to defend itself, but we have pressed the Government where they have fallen short, and it is in that spirit that we approach the review today.
The original integrated review contained plenty of analysis that was sound and that could enjoy wide support in the House, but it did have serious shortcomings. It made no mention of the risk of the Taliban taking over Kabul, just months before it happened. Nor did it foresee the risks of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, or mention risks related to Taiwan. It had little to say about Europe beyond NATO, and it said almost nothing about the European Union, which was given one substantive reference in the entire document.
In too many areas, from the fight against kleptocracy to the importance of international law, rhetoric and ambition contrasted poorly with Government inaction or hypocrisy. Significant and regretful decisions, such as that to cut official development assistance spending to 0.5% of GNI and the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, were taken before the review had even been concluded.
In security and defence, there was a clear mismatch between ends, ways and means. With threats increasing and a promise of “persistent global engagement”, the Government announced plans to cut another 10,000 troops, scrap Hercules planes and drop to 148 Challenger tanks. Those are the troops now reinforcing NATO allies, the planes used in the Kabul airlift, and the tanks being sent to Ukraine.
In the two years since the integrated review, in too many areas its promises have not matched reality. The so-called Indo-Pacific tilt has apparently been completed, but the UK’s diplomatic presence in key countries in the region, including India and China, has been cut by up to 50% over the past eight years. The review promised to maintain the UK as one of the world’s leading development actors; however, not only has aid been cut from 0.7% to 0.5%, but it is now being used to prop up the broken asylum system. By some estimates, less than half of bilateral development assistance ever leaves the United Kingdom.
Rather than standing up for international law, Ministers have come to this Chamber to explain how they plan to break it. Successive crises, from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine, have demonstrated the vulnerability of international supply chains, but we have not seen a new diplomatic drive to reflect the shifting resourcing economy. Britain is falling seriously behind. United States chips legislation will provide $52 billion in subsidies for US chip manufacturers and the EU’s Chips Act will provide €43 billion, but the Government have put aside just £700,000 to commission a research project, and they still have not published their promised semiconductor strategy.
Today’s refresh is an opportunity to address these flaws and reset the Government’s approach. A test of the integrated review is how it contributes to making Britain secure at home and strong abroad, and that is how we will judge it.
The Government will continue to have Labour’s full support over Ukraine and reinforcing our NATO allies. Labour’s commitment to NATO remains unshakeable and our commitment to Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is total. The review’s emphasis on building partnerships and alliances is welcome after a period of drift away from multilateralism. Britain is always a stronger and more effective force for good when it works with others. That is why Labour’s foreign policy vision is for a Britain reconnected. I am glad that the Government have been taking notes.
Nowhere has the sense of disconnection been stronger than in our post-Brexit relationship with the EU. It is good to see, on page 22, the Government finally acknowledge its importance. Labour would go further, seeking a security pact to co-operate on global challenges and keep us safe.
On China, we recognise the scale and complexity of the challenge that its rise represents and the breadth of our interests that are at stake. The initiative to improve understanding of China in government is vital, particularly given that the Foreign Office has been training only 14 people a year to speak fluent Mandarin. We need a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China, working with partners and allies, and engaging with China where our interests align to do so. It feels that after years of inconsistent and shifting approaches, this is at least something we can welcome.
It is good to see a new economic deterrence unit to help enforce sanctions, as is mentioned on page 48, because not a single individual or entity—not one—has been fined for breaching Russia sanctions since the invasion. Sanctions without enforcement are useless. I note the plan for a new Russia strategy, but the Government have not yet implemented all the Russia report’s recommendations.
On Iran, the Government are right to recognise the increasing threat, so it was disappointing that they opposed our amendment to create a new mechanism to proscribe hostile state actors such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In an era of disinformation, the BBC World Service is a unique and unparalleled platform, so the additional funding is very welcome. However, on defence spending, today’s announcement provides funds only for AUKUS and Ukraine replenishment. That is why we welcome it, but it does not answer growing questions concerning capability gaps that weaken our national defence and undermine the UK’s NATO contribution. The National Audit Office said recently that the Ministry of Defence
“cannot…afford to develop all the capabilities set out in the 2021 Integrated Review”.
How does today’s announcement ensure the same does not happen now that the new 2023 integrated review has been published?
The reality is that the Government are dragging their feet on the big decisions. The long-term goal to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence sounds, I am afraid, a little bit like a hollow promise. There is no plan and there is no timetable. I can tell the Secretary of State that the last Labour Government left office with defence spending of 2.5% intact. The reality is that too much of the Government’s effort is focused on undoing their mistakes: the Windsor framework to fix the protocol they negotiated; a Franco-British summit to repair relations damaged by his predecessor’s clumsy diplomacy; a £16.5 billion investment in defence swallowed up by a blackhole in the budget they mismanaged; removing the Chinese state’s role in our nuclear power industry, after the Government invited it in in the first place; and trying to strengthen our leadership in international development after the Government squandered it.
We welcome this refresh, but we will continue to provide robust scrutiny where necessary to ensure that our country’s foreign policy and defence systems are secure for the next generation.
I am not a religious man, but I understand that there is a phrase in the Bible about how there is more joy in heaven over a sinner who repents, and it is really good to hear—[Interruption.] As I say, I am not a religious man, but I am joyful that those on the Labour Front Bench have finally, perhaps kicking and screaming, come to such a realisation.
Let us take official development assistance. At its lowest point, this Government are still spending a larger proportion of GDP on ODA than at the highest point under the Labour party when it was in government. I remember when the Russian state was instrumental in poisoning British citizens and the leader of the Labour party at the time was saying that we should share our intelligence with the very state that was poisoning British people. I am now glad, finally, to hear a commitment from the Labour Front Bench about maintaining the nuclear deterrent and about support for NATO. It is interesting that we are being criticised for getting defence spending to 2.25% of GDP with a commitment to 2.5% of GDP, because I hear no such commitment formally from the shadow Defence team.
The simple truth of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman made a number of points about what Labour would do differently, and then said that, broadly, he agrees with this strategy. I am glad that he agrees with the strategy, because we have been working on this, we have been implementing the 2021 integrated review and we have seen the positive impact it has had on our relations in the Indo-Pacific. The signing of the FCAS—future combat air systems—agreement between Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom is testament to that, as is the fact that the carrier strike group’s maiden voyage was to that region. The fact that we are seen absolutely at the forefront of the international support to Ukraine in its self-defence against Russia’s invasion is also testament to that.
This Government will always be an internationally focused Government. We will always make sure that we act in close concert with our international partners and we will build greater partnerships around the world. That is what this refresh is about. It builds on the work of the original integrated review, and I am very proud that we have put it in the public domain.
It is a joy to see you back in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome much of this pragmatic refresh, and it is good to see recommendations by the Foreign Affairs Committee embraced, such as making resilience a key pillar, the Mandarin capability, the criticality of critical minerals, deterrence diplomacy, and the importance of science and technology. However, the threat of China cannot be seen primarily as an economic one, because that is to fail to recognise that it is trying to undermine our security and sovereignty. The asks are: greater resolve when dealing with transnational repression. That means shutting down illegal Chinese police stations, and closing down the Iranian regime’s cut-outs that are operating in London and across our country.
I welcome the creation of the National Protective Security Authority to tackle techno-authoritarianism, but that is support for the private sector. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept my amendment on support for public sector procurement when the Procurement Bill comes forward in a couple of weeks. Finally, the Government rightly talk about the reconstruction of Ukraine in the refresh. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to using frozen central bank funds? The Government seem to claim that we do not have the law in place to do that, or that it is not legally tested. Tell us what law change is needed, we will make it, and let us test it in the courts.
The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee highlighted a number of important areas, and I commend her and the Committee for the work they have done in putting forward ideas. We always take those ideas seriously and, as she recognises, it is no accident that some of the conversations and thinking that her Committee has put forward are woven into this report. We always listen to constructive feedback from colleagues, whatever side of the House they come from.
We are conscious that the threat from Chinese activity is not just in the economic sphere, and I assure my hon. Friend that on our security—not just economic security —we are thinking across a full range of threats and risks. We must also recognise that there is the need and opportunity to engage with China in areas where we can work more successfully. I assure her that protecting ourselves against risks in that economic sphere will not be limited just to the private sector—we will of course look to give advice to the private sector, and more broadly, and I assure her that we will continue to think across the whole range of threats and risks.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
Mr Speaker, while the Deputy Speaker is still in the Chamber, may I too welcome her back to her place? It is nice to see you here, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. There are clear things to welcome in the review, and I think everyone can say that funding for the BBC World Service is a good move. Measures to tackle and counter hostile information and manipulation are things we should be doing, and it is good to see them in the report. It is sensible to develop more expertise on China, although there are gaps in the strategy. It is painfully obvious that we need a reassessed Russia strategy, and it is important to come forward with that in detail. Support for Ukraine must be ongoing, and I repeat the call for frozen assets to be used in the rebuilding process.
The Secretary of State also needs to reflect on where his golden thread has frayed. The Government were flatfooted in the crisis over Afghanistan, and there is still the issue of British Council workers. What lessons have been learned for the future from that debacle? What are his ambitions in rebuilding with the European Union, and where is the detail on dealing with the global climate crisis? It is barely mentioned in the documents. International aid should not be used as a trade lever, yet that is still part of the UK Government’s plans. Increased military spending needs more detail. When will that come to the House? Security expert Edward Lucas has warned:
“Britain’s military cannot sustain a global role”, describing UK armed forces as a
“clapped-out army, serious problems with…our naval vessels, and an air force short of planes and pilots.”
The presence of nuclear weapons in NATO countries did not deter Putin from invading Ukraine. Why would spending more on new nuclear be a good idea now? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that spending in conventional areas would be better than wasting on new nuclear, or has the £5.5 billion shambles of the Ajax tanks procurement left the Government afraid of that kind of investment?
On who will ultimately pay for the terrible damage across Ukraine, it is absolutely right that the aggressor pays. We will work closely with our international partners to make sure that those who cause the damage repair the damage. The exact vehicle for doing so will be discussed and decided internationally, because it demands an international response.
On the nuclear deterrent, the hon. Gentleman has very much drawn the wrong lessons. He says that NATO having nuclear weapons did not prevent Russia attacking Ukraine. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons arsenal. It was Russia’s failure to abide by the commitments made in the Minsk agreement—[Interruption.] He says it did not stop it invading Ukraine. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. I can draw him a map if it helps. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Our nuclear deterrent is absolutely the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence, and the UK will always abide by its commitments to its friends and neighbours in the region. We will ensure the standing we currently enjoy as one of the most significant contributors to the Euro-Atlantic defence relationship is maintained and enhanced, in terms of both our nuclear deterrent and conventional means.
I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.
Defence posture matters. If we want to play a role on the international stage, then our hard power counts. We have to be honest. The last integrated review saw a swathe of cuts to our land, sea and air assets, which I think many in the House hoped would be reversed today. Page 8 of the review summarises the threat:
“There is a growing prospect that the international security environment will further deteriorate in the coming years, with state threats increasing and diversifying in Europe and beyond. The risk of escalation is greater than at any time in decades”.
We are sliding towards a new cold war and threats are increasing, yet here we are staying on a peacetime budget. My right hon. Friend has two days before the Budget is announced. Please, can we move to 2.5% of GDP now?
We committed to 2.5% of GDP as a sustainable baseline. We announced the additional £5 billion to address the immediate impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As I said, that is on top of the £20 billion uplift announced in 2020 and the over half a billion pounds of new investment announced last year. We will continue to work with our international allies to ensure our collective defence posture is one that genuinely deters aggression against NATO and its member states. We have been successful in doing that, but we will, as this document has done, assess the likely and possible threats and make sure that our defence posture aligns with them.
Having ambition and slogans such as “global Britain” are fine, but without resources behind them they are pretty meaningless. Between 2010 and 2021, the Government cut the defence budget by 16%. A £5 billion increase in the defence budget was announced today—the Prime Minister is trumpeting it all over social media—but the Defence Secretary told the Defence Committee, on which I sit, that he needed 11% just to stand still. It is interesting that he is not here to defend it. Can I ask about the £5 billion? Is the £3 billion for the nuclear deterrent new money or part of the existing £10 billion already put aside for the deterrent? If that leaves £2 billion additional expenditure, that is a long way from the Defence Secretary’s claim that we need 11% just to stand still.
The Secretary of State for Defence was just at the Dispatch Box welcoming the money.
He has gone to Japan, with which we have recently signed a defence agreement for the next generation of fighter aircraft. The slightly childish and raucous calls from the Opposition Benches would have more impact if it were not for the fact that on the Government Benches we are getting on with building those international defence relationships that will keep us, our neighbours and our friends right across the globe safe.
I very much welcome the commitment to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence, and the recommitment with our American and Australian allies to AUKUS. Will the Secretary of State assure me that there will be absolute alignment of our defence and foreign policy positions, to ensure that global Britain delivers in the way that it must for our own freedom and that of our allies?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why we have moved to integrated reviews, recognising that defence, diplomacy, international development and trade policy are all interwoven. To have a truly effective international posture, all those functions of government need to go hand in hand, in close co-ordination with non-governmental organisations such as the BBC World Service. That is why we had the integrated review in ’21 and the integrated review refresh today. I assure him and the whole House that we will continue to work in close co-ordination across Government to deliver on it.
I welcome what I heard was the recognition that when it comes to China we need to do far more to defend our values, while recognising that there are global public goods that we need to work on together, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation in the Pacific and global development. Since the last integrated review, the so-called “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific has entailed £3 million extra in FCDO staff, three extra British high commissioners in the Pacific, two extra warships and less than 1% of the MOD headcount. That it not a tilt but a glance in the right direction. Could the Foreign Secretary tell us how big the package will be to finance the tilt needed to an area of £4.3 billion people?
The right hon. Gentleman seems have embedded in his question the idea that our posture to the Indo-Pacific is a one-off event. It is not; it is a permanent recalibration of our foreign and defence policy. My first set of bilateral visits as Foreign Secretary was to Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The Defence Secretary is flying to Japan at the moment to build upon the agreement that we have made between the UK, Italian and Japanese Governments. We have made a long-term commitment that is being resourced. The carrier strike group’s main voyage to the region is building towards what is a permanent recalibration of our international focus, to recognise that the centre of gravity of world affairs is moving eastwards and southwards. We are responding to that.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s crystal-clear commitment that from 2025 we will spend 2.5% of our GDP on defence. I will be interested to know whether Labour will match that. Part of that spending, referred to in the document, is the AUKUS programme, which will be a world-class collaboration between the United States, Australia and us. Does he agree that that not only will help deter Chinese expansionism in the Pacific, but is a perfect example of global Britain?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. When I was running through the list of things that underpin our Indo-Pacific focus, I did not mention AUKUS, because I know that the Prime Minister will do so extensively later on today. My right hon. Friend asked whether I think the Labour party will match that commitment of 2.5% on defence spending. I say no, for two reasons: first, no shadow Defence Minister has made such a commitment; and secondly, the Labour party will not be office in 2025—we will.
We have faced our most perilous moments since the second world war and the height of the cold war, and we have seen a clear strategy from Russia, China and Iran to undermine democracy and western values. What we have before us today is a strategy that does not give any sort of signal or sign to Russia, China or Iran that we are serious about taking them on. We need to do what it takes. The Government, and this Parliament, need to decide that and do what it takes. Instead, what we have today is a paltry £5 billion—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Defence has made it clear that he wanted £8 billion to £11 billion. Back in November, when he was asked about inflation by the Defence Committee, he argued for an increase of £8 billion over two years. Here we have got £5 billion, which does not even cover the inflationary part of the cost. It is an absolute nonsense and the Government should be ashamed of themselves. They are letting down this country.
I struggle to find a question among that stream of consciousness, but the simple truth is that the Secretary of State for Defence was at this Dispatch Box only few minutes ago welcoming this announcement. The hon. Gentleman says £5 billion is a “paltry” sum. I was just reminded by the Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. and learned Friend Alex Chalk, that that sum is larger than our budget for prisons. The hon. Gentleman’s attitude towards public money demonstrates the classic problem with the Opposition; suggesting that £5 billion is an insignificant sum demonstrates a blasé attitude towards public expenditure, which is sadly the hallmark of the Opposition.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the refresh, which makes the country stronger today. Many of my constituents are concerned about the rise of China. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that China is one of the greatest challenges we will face in the 21st century? Will he confirm that we must build on our relationships in the Indo-Pacific, not just with our existing friends, such as Australia, India and Japan, and that we must find new friends and allies to strengthen our hand?
My hon. Friend is right that it is important for us to build on our existing friendships and develop new ones in the Indo-Pacific region. Those friendships and partnerships are a good thing in and of themselves, not just in response to China’s activity. He is also right that China has demonstrated a range of behaviours that we oppose. I have raised those directly with representatives of the Chinese Government, so it is right that this review looks carefully at our relationship with China, those areas where we need to defend ourselves and our partners, and those areas where we need to work more closely with them.
It is a fine, glossy brochure, but we have waited an awfully long time and there is not a lot in it. The harsh realities are that at a time when inflation is denuding the defence budget in the way that it is, and when the Euro-Atlantic posture of the United Kingdom needs to redouble more than ever, the United Kingdom has committed itself to the Indo-Pacific. We have a war in mainland Europe and the response is £5 billion. It is not serious, especially not when £2 billion of that is to replenish stocks, which is non-discretionary so not a policy position, and the other £3 billion is for nuclear. Why is there always money for nuclear?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman why there is always money for the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence posture; it is because it is the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence posture. When he starts to talk about expenditure on the armed forces, my heart goes out to those brave men and women in our British armed forces stationed in Scotland, who pay more tax than any other members of the armed forces in the country.
I very much welcome the review that my right hon. Friend has announced today. He spoke about the relevance of the critical minerals strategy. May I highlight something for him to take back to other Departments that work alongside his? We all recognise the lessons to be learned from our reliance on Russian minerals, and how we have had to change that, but 95% of the elements used in renewable energy—solar panels or whatever—are processed in China. We cannot escape the science, but we can ask other Departments to diversify how we do renewables. Will my right hon. Friend take back to other Departments the message that we need to look at investing in and working on things like hydrogen combustion, so that we are not entirely reliant on minerals coming out of China?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Russia’s use of energy supplies is a tool of coercion—that is something that we have witnessed. We must ensure that we do two things. First, we must wean ourselves off our global addiction to hydrocarbon energy, for the reasons that we have seen. Secondly, we must ensure that, in doing so, we do not inadvertently create a dependency on any one other country, particularly China. Our critical minerals strategy will bear that in mind. It is clear from conversations I have had—for example with leaders of the countries in Africa from which these minerals are mined and shipped to China for processing—that it would be better for them, for us and for the world if more of that processing were done on the continent of extraction rather than on the other side of the world.
The integrated review refresh recognises the challenge from Iran, which has been behind 15 kidnap and assassination attempts in the UK since January last year. The Foreign Office is widely understood to be blocking attempts to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether that is true? Given the seriousness of the threat, can he explain why we have not yet proscribed the IRGC?
We respond to the threats posed by Iran in the region, against people in the country and internationally. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the numerous attempts that have been made on the UK mainland; I pay tribute to our security services and our policing services for preventing a number of attempted attacks here. The decision whether to sanction or proscribe is always one that we discuss across Government. Any decisions on future designations or sanctions will be made across Government, and I am not going to speculate on what future actions this Government may take.
The velvet glove of diplomacy must cover the iron fist. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that even 2.5% of GDP on defence will simply not be enough to give the Foreign Office the support it needs to do its job?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about the close working relationship between defence, diplomacy and international development. I can assure him that the Defence Secretary and I, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are in close co-ordination to make sure that the money we spend defending our nation and defending our interests overseas is used most effectively. That will always underpin the decisions that we make. I recognise my hon. Friend’s desire for greater spending on defence, but ultimately we need to ensure that we protect the public purse in a way that protects our interests and values.
The 2015 strategic defence and security review estimated that the Dreadnought acquisition programme was
“likely to cost a total of £31 billion…including inflation”.
We have learned in the past week that the programme remains within budget. However, the SDSR set a contingency of £10 billion. How much of that £10 billion contingency is being used on Dreadnought? Is the £3 billion announced today for nuclear separate from that £10 billion?
Future expenditure will be set out in more detail by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as I have said, and the ways in which the Defence Secretary will spend the money allocated to him will be set out by Defence Ministers. I have to say that I am still completely lost as to what the Lib Dems’ defence posture is. When I look back on our time in government together, I certainly cannot help thinking that if we had not had the sea anchor of the Lib Dems in coalition, we would have progressed much more quickly in securing the defence of this country.
The extra money for stockpiles and for AUKUS is indeed welcome. The Foreign Secretary rightly spoke of a challenge to the entire international order, and when we look at just two areas of capability in isolation—the size of the Army and the capability of the Air Mobility Force—we have to face the unpalatable fact that neither people nor equipment can do two things at once. Will he be working with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that our investment matches, and provides, the capability to be set against the challenges of which he rightly spoke?
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about this subject, and the points that he has made are points to which we listen carefully. I can only repeat that we will continue to work together closely, as we have done for a number of years, to align our foreign affairs and diplomacy posture—and, indeed, our international development posture—with our defence posture to ensure that we use most efficiently and effectively the public funds, the taxpayers’ money, given to us by the Chancellor to protect the British people and our friends and interests overseas.
The Foreign Secretary referred to a further £5 billion over the next two years, and to the commitment to spend 2.5% of UK GDP on defence. Let me ask him, very simply, when the 2.5% commitment will come into effect, and where that leaves the British Army. Will there be further cuts?
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his question. The details of how the Secretary of State for Defence will spend his budget I will have to leave to the Secretary of State for Defence, but the Integrated Review Refresh sets out the broad parameters. The £5 billion brings us up to about 2.25% of GDP, which is well on track to that 2.5% commitment. As I have said, I will leave it to the Defence Secretary to give further details of the nature of that expenditure and the capabilities and equipment that it will cover.
I welcome some of the report, but I want to return to the issue of China, in which, as someone who has been sanctioned, I take a particular interest.
I have to say that I am somewhat confused about what the Government’s position actually is. It was the Prime Minister who, when standing for election, said:
“China…poses a systemic threat”
—there was then a backdown to “systemic challenge”— which we would meet with “robust pragmatism”. That “robust pragmatism” means that we have sanctioned no one in Hong Kong while America has sanctioned 10; that we have sanctioned three low-level officials in Xinjiang while America has sanctioned 11, including Chen Quanguo, the architect of that terrible atrocity; and that we did not kick out the Chinese officials who beat people up on the streets of the UK. Now, however, I understand that “systemic challenge” has moved on to “epoch-defining challenge”. The document that the Prime Minister has produced today does refer to that “epoch-defining challenge”, but then goes on to use the words
“in the face of that threat”.
Does that now mean that China is a threat, or an epoch-defining challenge, or a challenging Government epoch, or even none of that?
I reassure my right hon. Friend that in every meeting I have had with representatives of the Chinese Government, I have raised specifically their sanctioning of him and others in this House as being completely unacceptable behaviour. I have challenged them on every single occasion that I have had conversations with the Chinese Government.
I understand the desire to have a simple, short phrase or a single word to describe our posture towards China, but with a country as big, influential and significant as China, it is impossible to distil it down to a simple set of words or a phrase. That is not something we do with any other country in the world. We recognise that international relations are more complicated, so in the IR refresh there is more of a narrative than a single-word description. We want to describe the areas where we can and should work more closely with China, the areas where we need to defend ourselves and our interests against China, and the areas where we want to steer China into a different course of action. So there will always be descriptors, plural. I understand my right hon. Friend’s desire for clarity on this, and he will see through our actions that we will respond robustly to China when it behaves in a way that we disagree with, but we will also attempt to steer China in a better direction.
Given the close way in which we have been working with our European allies to resist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is it not now time to seek a formal foreign policy and security partnership with the European Union alongside our leading role in NATO?
I have just come back, at the tail and of last week, from the UK-France summit in Paris, and our closer defence co-operation was one of the main topics we discussed, as was our broader co-operation with the member states of the European Union on our collective self-defence, but ultimately NATO has shown itself to be the most effective mechanism for the defence of the Euro-Atlantic region. The UK has demonstrated its full commitment to NATO, and through the announcements we have made today and the previous announcements we have made, we will continue to be one of the leading contributory nations to NATO. That is the primary vehicle for our collective self-defence.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the presentation of this paper, which shows a far greater strategic awareness of the vulnerability that the whole of the west faces than we would have seen in any document just a few years ago. But is not the ghost at the feast still the money? I very much welcome his commitment to 2.5% of GDP for defence, but when are we going to see our armed forces restored to the critical mass that is capable of deterring the kind of aggression we are seeing in Ukraine and the kind of aggressive policies we are seeing from China? The £5 billion announced today will patch up what we should have been spending already, but it is not going to make a huge difference.
My hon. Friend is right to say that all defence postures need to be paid for, and that is why I am proud that we have the additional £5 billion that we have announced on top of the money previously announced in 2020. Obviously, when we are talking about expenditure as a percentage of GDP, one of the best things we can do is to grow the economy, which is why I full support the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy so that we can have a larger defence budget in absolute terms, because it will be a percentage of a growing economy. I highlight the fact that that is in stark contrast to the lack of commitment to a proportion of defence spending from those on the Opposition Front Bench, along with no credible plan to grow the economy. I take the point my hon. Friend makes to heart.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, following his Department’s devastating international aid cuts, the UK Government cannot claim to be fully safeguarding vulnerable communities around the world?
In absolute terms and in percentage terms, the UK is still one of the largest—[Interruption.] In absolute terms and in percentage terms, the UK is still one of the largest official development assistance donating countries in the world. I can assure the hon. Lady that, from the conversations I have with partners around the world, they hugely value the UK’s contribution, our expertise and the co-operation we have with them.
Many aspects of this statement are welcome, including the increases in our hard power and soft power capabilities, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that one-off increases are ad hoc, sporadic and make long-term planning difficult? What is required is a fundamental, threat-based review backed by long-term funding. To properly defend ourselves requires long lead-in times across many aspects of our defence.
My hon. Friend is right. We have published the integrated review refresh to set the framework for the risks and opportunities in the international sphere. Of course, we need discrete responses to one-off events such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but those are within a wider framework of international posture. The Prime Minister has made it clear that this is part of the journey towards our baseline of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence, which is a commitment to which we will adhere.
Building on the question asked by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we need an in-depth strategic audit of every aspect of our country’s relationship with China, from defence to diplomacy, technology, education and cyber-security? Will he assure the House that there will be no return to the utterly failed “golden era” strategy?
I can assure my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Stephen Kinnock that we are looking at how China interacts with the British state, both at a Government level and in other areas, including the commercial world, the public sector and education. That is not to say that we should never, or must never, have Chinese investment in the UK, which would be unrealistic and counterproductive, but it must mean that we go into whatever relationship we have with China with our eyes open. We have to properly assess the opportunities, risks and threats, and that needs to be done across Government. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and other Members that this is exactly how we will approach our relationship with China.
I welcome the document’s strength and robustness with regards to Russia’s threat elsewhere than Ukraine but, following my quick reading, I am a little disappointed by how little it says about the Arctic. More than half of Russia’s navy and all its nuclear defence is in the Arctic, on which it has a 25,000-mile coastline, and most of Russia’s economic wealth also comes from the Arctic, yet only one paragraph is devoted to it. Frankly, I think the threat is quite substantial, so I am disappointed by the oft-repeated hope
“for the Arctic to return to being a region of high cooperation and low tension.”
Am I right in thinking that is more of a hope than a belief that it will actually happen?
I have had conversations with my Scandinavian, Baltic and Canadian counterparts on the risk to the Arctic and the high north. Obviously, in a document that we are trying to make modest in page number but wide in aspiration, we have to be disciplined in how much we put across. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are very conscious of that risk. The joint expeditionary force and my conversations with my Nordic, Baltic and Canadian counterparts are testament to that.
The extra funding being made available to the BBC World Service is particularly welcome. The World Service does an admirable job of supplying news in a world of disinformation, so why did the Government decide to cut its funding in the first place?
When the impacts of covid were felt across the world, every Government of every political persuasion had to make difficult decisions, just as we did. I am pleased that we have been able to work with the BBC World Service to ensure it delivers its services in the most efficient manner and that we are able to support it with this increase in funding.
Given that the biggest killer of our people, the most frequent breaches of our border and, arguably, the most significant impact to the integrity of our economy result from the work of overseas organised criminal gangs, why is there hardly any mention of them in this document? Where is the resource to allow the National Crime Agency to deal with threats that are felt on the streets of the Secretary of State’s constituency and mine every day?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that organised criminal gangs have an international component. This document is predominantly but not exclusively focused on state-level threats. However, I assure him that the role of international organised crime gangs is very much part of our interactions with our interlocutors internationally. We did not have the opportunity to put every single element of what we do internationally into this review, and of course a large of part of what he refers to lies within the home affairs area of responsibility. However, we liaise closely to ensure that we discuss with international interlocutors the threat posed within the UK by international criminality.
I refer to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary referred to today being Commonwealth Day, but a little disappointed that there was only a passing reference to the Commonwealth, in that he is meeting Foreign Ministers from member states in the coming week. He was right to highlight the growing influence of China across the globe, which includes economic, political and security interests among many of the 56 members of the Commonwealth. How does he envisage the integrated review refresh in terms of Britain developing a modern, dynamic, refreshed friendship with many of those Commonwealth countries?
I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Although we have not made many references to the Commonwealth discretely in this review, the Commonwealth is interwoven through much of what we do. The geographical nature of the Commonwealth means, inevitably, that our Indo-Pacific tilt will be delivered in partnership with Commonwealth countries, as of course AUKUS will be with Australia. This morning, I spoke to the Singaporean and New Zealand Foreign Ministers, and I have had meetings with the Malaysian Foreign Minister. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the UK wants to see the Commonwealth being a meaningful, active and useful vehicle for the member states, particularly the small island states that disproportionately create the membership of the Commonwealth. I reassure him that even if this is not written down explicitly, it is absolutely interwoven throughout this document.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that soft power can often be as effective as hard power, if not more so, and that it is usually a lot cheaper? I therefore strongly welcome the additional funding for the BBC World Service, but will he go on to look at strengthening the support for other soft power projections, such as the British Council and the Chevening scholarship and John Smith Trust fellowship programmes?
I suspect that my right hon. Friend, my near neighbour in Essex, knows that he is pushing at the most open of open doors on that. I do not particularly like the phrase “soft power”, because it sometimes implies a subordinate relationship to hard power. He is right to say that the UK’s projection of soft power—I have to use the phrase as I have not thought of anything better yet—is incredibly powerful and cost-effective. He made the point about Chevening, Marshall and other scholarships. All those things, along with football, arts, theatre and so on, are incredibly powerful and absolutely at the heart of UK foreign policy.
William Gladstone’s third Midlothian speech said that good foreign policy started with “good government at home”. We can see that in the US with President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act, and even in the European Union being jolted into responding with similar initiatives. But the somewhat vague promises in the document published today of a protective security authority, an economic deterrence initiative, a critical minerals strategy and a UK semiconductor strategy leave me somewhat wanting more. Can the Foreign Secretary expand on those things? If he does not and there is no meat on the bone, we will fail to have met the moment that the White House and the Commission in Brussels have given us.
There is a phrase, “Always leave them wanting more.” Is that not what they say? [Interruption.] Politics is show business for ugly people. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will remain, as I said in my statement, absolutely at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy to work in partnership and with partners. We need to make sure that we maintain our tradition as an open, free-trading nation, working closely with those countries that share our values and protect our interests, as we do theirs. He referred to further iterations which I have highlighted, including semiconductors and our critical minerals strategy. More details will be forthcoming, and he will see that those things are interwoven, not just through the UK foreign policy structure, but in close co-operation with our friends and allies internationally.
A commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief was included in the last integrated review, and it is good to hear from the Foreign Secretary that the approach to working on this refresh has been one of evolution. Does he agree that the UK continuing to take a leading role in promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief across the world, and working with like-minded countries to challenge abuses, are even more important today than they were in the 2021 review, bearing in mind the increased abuses that are happening across the world, not least Russia’s misuse of religion in its attacks against Ukraine and the growing use of increasingly sophisticated technology to control, coerce and oppress people, and restrict their freedom of religion or belief?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in this area. She is right: freedom of religion or belief is a litmus test for good behaviours by Government. Where those freedoms are impinged, that is typically the canary in the mine for other human rights abuses. She is right that we highlighted that in 2021, and we have not lost our commitment to it. This is a refresh—we did not attempt to cover off everything that we covered in the ’21 integrated review, otherwise the document would have been too large.
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is no longer Government policy to view the aid budget as a giant cash machine in the sky, and does he recognise that where cuts have been made, they have had a tangible and negative impact? Why will he not show the same ambition to return to 0.7% gross national income for aid spending as he is showing to get to 2.5% GNI for defence spending?
The hon. Gentleman should listen when we make statements at the Dispatch Box, because we have made the commitment to get back up to 0.7%. As I said in response to Ms Qaisar, we remain, both in percentage and absolute terms, one of the largest aid donors in the world.
I welcome the integrated review refresh. On China’s capabilities, as, I think, the only Mandarin and Cantonese speaker in the House, I encourage the Foreign Secretary to increase the number of Great Britain-China Centre courses, both for civil servants and for parliamentarians. On the integrated review’s assessment of middle-ground powers of growing importance, which include the three south-east Asian nations and ASEAN, which I serve, as he knows, does he agree that although our national interests are not always the same, we all share a strong interest in an open, international order, so we should, as my right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale suggested, sharply increase FCDO Chevening scholarships, British Council scholarships, armed forces’ course scholarships, and Westminster Foundation for Democracy programmes in the Indo-Pacific region to make those closer partnerships for which the review calls?
It is incumbent on us to make sure that we understand China better. I am not fatalistic about our future relationship with China. The job of foreign affairs and diplomacy is to try to influence and improve. We certainly seek to influence China’s decisions. It is clear that we need to increase the number of people who speak Chinese and intimately understand China, which is why we have made a commitment to do so. With regard to the schemes that my hon. Friend highlighted, he is absolutely right that the more people understand us well, the better.
Some analysts believe that a war over Taiwan’s sovereignty could occur in the second half of this decade. Although the Prime Minister has voiced his wish over the past 24 hours to continue to engage with China, does the Foreign Secretary agree that conflict in that region would have devastating impacts and that we must protect Taiwan’s rights as an independent nation?
The hon. Lady is right that a conflict across the Taiwan strait would be disastrous not just for the region but for the global economy, because of the interconnected supply chains that would be at stake. The UK’s position is long standing and well versed: we do not agree with any unilateral change of posture across the Taiwan strait and we will continue to work to de-escalate where there are tensions and to try to ensure peace in that region.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP will not only help to keep us safe, but create much more certainty for the 390,000 UK jobs, many of them high paying and high skilled, in places such as Filton and Bradley Stoke, which rely on our defence spending?
We have fantastic defence industries here in the UK. I think the reason countries are keen to work with us on projects such as AUKUS, the future combat air system and others is that internationally they recognise the huge value added to defence systems by the engagement of the UK, whether at governmental level or in the commercial sector. We value the jobs based in the UK’s defence sector, and of course this is about preserving those jobs, which are more geographically dispersed than in other sectors of the UK economy. Good value, high-paid, high-skilled jobs across the whole of the UK is something we will continue to focus on.
I thank the Secretary of State very much for his statement and welcome the Government announcement regarding the increase in defence spending—something for which I, along with many others in this House, have been asking for years. I note that the increase is in response to Russia and other global concerns and that the Secretary of State in his statement referred to the increase in cyber and technology, but it is also important to have an increase of soldiers on the ground. Is it not possible to have both cyber and technology, and boots on the ground?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman makes an important point: just because new threats have emerged, as we have seen with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the old threats do not go away. We are seeing a full-spectrum attack by Russia, including cyber-attack, missile attack, tank attack and, sadly, first world war-style trench warfare around Bakhmut. We have to understand that it is not a case of either/or; it has to be both. This integrated review refresh recognises that, and I can assure him and the House that we will make sure we cover all the areas where we need to defend ourselves.
As my right hon. Friend has already said, Britain’s soft power is a strategic asset. Does he agree that it is important for two reasons—first, it gives us a strategic advantage in the world, and secondly, it gives us a platform to build relationships with allies to contain and resist the trend towards anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes around the world?
My hon. Friend is right that the UK is proudly one of the most significant defence contributors to NATO and, as I have said, in absolute and percentage terms it is one of the largest aid spenders in the world. However, the one area where we are without risk of being contradicted is in our soft power. We recognise that, and we will continue to invest in that and to ensure that it is at the heart of our foreign policy.
The £5 billion investment in defence spending in the upcoming AUKUS announcement offers substantial opportunities for those engaged in the nuclear enterprise and submarine-building programme, but it also makes clear the challenges we are going to face in skilling up people for that multi-generation-long programme and getting our supply chains ready to deliver on it. Can my right hon. Friend outline what cross-Government discussions are taking place now to make sure we are fit for that challenge?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not just a cross-Government endeavour but a cross-society, multi-decade-long endeavour, meaning that we will need people who are perhaps currently in primary school to be developing the technical skills that will still be needed in 20 or 30 years’ time. I suggest to careers advisers around the country that advising boys and girls to gravitate towards that area of work is a very good investment, because the jobs are going to be there—they are going to be high-paid, high-skilled jobs scattered all around the UK that are going to be there for a very long time. My hon. Friend is right that this needs to be a whole-of-society approach, and that is exactly the attitude we are taking.