Johnson plans to use defence overhaul to strengthen UK union

Boris Johnson’s long-awaited overhaul of Britain’s defence strategy will be published on Monday, when the prime minister will sell it domestically as a boost to the economy and the union between the UK’s four nations.

The Integrated Review, commissioned over a year ago, will promise to “strengthening the UK’s core industrial base” and outline plans to expand manufacturing and create jobs outside London.

In a signal that the prime minister is trying to use the strategy to help bolster the union, it will include plans to build ships in Scotland, armoured vehicles in Wales and satellites in Northern Ireland.

A new National Cyber Security Force HQ will be set up in northern England, along with trade hubs in Wales and Northern Ireland, and 500 more staff will be added to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s team based in East Kilbride.

Johnson stressed that the foreign policy overhaul was based on “who we are as a country: our values, our strengths and – most importantly – our people”.

He added: “Our international ambitions must start at home, and through the Integrated Review we will drive investment back into our communities, ensuring the UK is on the cutting edge of innovation and creating an entire country that is match-fit for a more competitive world.”

Last week the Guardian revealed the most significant details of the review, which will see Britain tilting its international attention towards the Indo-Pacific region in a bid to create a democratic counterweight to China.

Critics argue that the UK lacks the strength to have a major influence in the far east, and, while defence capital spending was substantially increased in November, aid budgets have been slashed and pressure on revenue budgets in defence remains.

While ministers have announced plans to cut international development spending, a government source told the Guardian the integrated review will include a commitment to the 0.7% of GDP target – a move that has probably been made to appeal to Tory backbenchers opposed to the cut by demonstrating that it is only intended to be temporary.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the UK’s Strategic Command, said the country is “ceding the strategic initiative to our rivals” such as Russia and China, and they are are “gaining a decisive advantage in military information-age technologies”.

Writing in the Times, Sanders said the result had been a “succession of strategic surprises, the erosion of strategic advantage and the loss of initiative”, and called for the review to deliver a more “modern deterrence for our nation”.

When it is released, the document will be a major step towards Johnson articulating what the “Global Britain” he has called for means – and how he plans to forge it in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and over the next decade.


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