EU Defence Union becomes visible in Downing Street priorities

A bonanza of comprehensive reviews is underway. Britain’s foreign and defence policy is first in line.

PM announces major foreign policy and defence review, with more cash possible for the military

By Daniel Capurro,
Front Bench Editor
If there was any lingering doubt that this is a new government and not simply a continuation of the ten previous years of Tory power, it should be gone soon. Today the Prime Minister will announce the biggest review into Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War.

The Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence will have their “priorities and objectives” examined and adjusted. Britain’s security services are expected to be included in the review too.

– More money, more cuts –

The headline the Government is pushing is that this could lead to a significant increase in defence spending. The review will not be cost-neutral, like previous defence reviews in 2010 and 2015, and so if a new or missing capability is identified it can be filled without reducing capabilities elsewhere.

That isn’t entirely news, though. The Conservatives had already pledged above-inflation annual increases for the defence budget.

And the review doesn’t mean that there will be a splurge on defence or that there won’t be cuts. The review appears to bear the imprint of Dominic Cummings, who has previously expressed a desire to tackle MoD procurement – the department currently has a multi-billion pound black hole in its procurement budget. Outside experts are to be brought in, while there will be a focus on future warfare rather than traditional combat.

– The Grand Old Duke of York, he didn’t have any men –

One suggestion, reported in The Times, is that the Army could be cut in size even further. At the election, the Conservatives ditched a long-standing pledge not to reduce numbers below the current 82,000, while the Army has been struggling to recruit even to that much-reduced level. Tanks, too, could be set for the chop, with the prospect of traditional state-on-state combat seen to be reducing.

The focus instead, will be on cyberwarfare, space weapons and other state-of-the-art tech.

There will also be an assessment of closer integration with allies. Britain already works closely with France and that relationship could be deepened. Indeed, while the review is intended to add some substance to the idea of “Global Britain”, it may well be about working more closely with allies.

– Review bonanza –
A key issue is the timing of the review. It will be completed by the autumn, which is a much shorter timetable than the last major foreign policy and defence review in 1997-98. It will, however, ensure that the review is completed in tandem with a comprehensive spending review across Whitehall.

That, though, raises other concerns. As I’ve written before, the “end of austerity” has been highly selective. There is more money for the NHS and there will soon be more for the MoD. Other departments, though, have been asked to make cuts.

How much Chancellor Rishi Sunak decides to loosen the Government’s fiscal rules will have a major bearing on how the extra cash for defence will be found and who will have to foot the bill.

PS: To celebrate Brexit, Christopher ‘Chopper’ Hope, The Telegraph’s Chief Political Correspondent, is bringing together three pivotal Brexit names: Nigel Farage, Mark Francois MP and Allison Pearson to reflect on how we finally made it out of the EU and discuss what’s next for Britain. Join us on March 10.

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