Alongside the UK Government’s work on their Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review, the Defence Committee have been conducting their own inquiry. This tandem track allows for the Committee to comment publicly on their views of how the Government should be positioning its policy, as well as being able to comment widely on the Government’s own performance. In some ways, the Committee is able to act as an independent ‘opposition’ (a critical friend although sometimes not so friendly) on single-issue matters such as defence.
When the Review was announced in the Queen’s Speech (19 December 2019), it was described as “the most radical reassessment of [the UK’s] place in the world since the end of the Cold War.” In recognising that security, defence and foreign policy are explicitly linked, it has already gone some way to ensuring that it draws in some of the fringe and ‘soft’ elements of defence and recognises the diplomacy links. As the review is so broad, the Ministry of Defence is only one of several agencies and departments taking part; however, it is possibly the one with the greatest amount of what could be considered ‘discretionary’ spending.
The Defence Committee’s review attempts to steer the Government’s own work. In doing so, they pose a series of questions and set out their views on the issues that should be discussed. These are summarised in a series of graphics without explanatory text. They don’t just include what they think the content of the review should be, but also the process. They are perhaps self explanatory but also demonstrate the complexity of the review process.
Clearly it doesn’t get into the detail of what should be within scope but recent mainstream media speculation has discussed the role of the Main Battle Tank, the Committee’s review doesn’t mention them (the only mention of tanks is ‘think-tanks’). There is some valuable data on the decline in armoured unit numbers since 1990 but this is to be expected and should help inform the debates that may be happening behind closed doors.
The Review poses a series of direct questions to Government that, in the normal manner for Committees, the Government will respond to within two months. They also make critical comment on the number of reviews that have taken place, and continue to happen (citing 13 reviews of defence procurement as a topic on its own, with many unresolved issues). It will be interesting to see how things develop both formally and informally over that time.