Integrated Review Refresh: Implications for UK Trade and International Affairs

Yesterday British Expertise International were joined by their sister organisation the British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG), an independent, non-partisan foreign policy think tank, for a deep dive on the recently released ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a More Contested and Volatile World. The session explored the key outcomes of the Refresh and what it means for foreign policy and international development players.

It was divided into three parts focusing on key regions and partnerships, security and strategic rivals, and then broader thematic priorities in turn. 

Key Regions & Partnerships 
It was clear from the session that a focus on partnerships - new and old - lie at the core of the Integrated Review Refresh. The report outlines a clear commitment from the UK Government to nurture and strengthen traditional relationships, with cooperation with both Europe and the United States taking center stage. Further, commitments to making the Indo-Pacific a “permanent pillar” of the UK’s foreign policy remains, however questions remain around the potential costs and benefits of focusing resources in the region, particularly in the context of the current Ukraine crisis. In turn, the Atlantic-Pacific collectively are a key regional priority, with the Refresh making clear that prosperity and security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific are  inextricably linked. 

More broadly, there is a focus on what the Refresh terms the ‘Wider Neighbourhood’ including the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The UK’s priorities vary within each of these regions - in the Middle East there is a sharp focus on energy, while in Latin America and Africa climate change and biodiversity are at the forefront of the agenda.

Security & Strategic Rivals 
It was noted that ‘resilience’ is one of the biggest buzzwords of the Refresh, with ambitions for the UK to improve its ‘security through resilience’ central to the Refresh. Beyond traditional military initiatives, this includes a focus on strengthening the UK’s resilience in areas of energy, climate, health, democracy, cyber security, and the UK border. There are also commitments to an investment in innovation from AI, semiconductors, quantum technologies, future telecommunications, and engineering biology to further strengthen the UK’s resilience. 

Moreover, where China was remarked as an ‘epoch-defining challenge’ in the Refresh, Russia is deemed the ‘most acute threat to UK security’ and the UK has committed to maintaining £2.3 billion in humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine in 2023 following Russia’s invasion.

Thematic Priorities 
Climate Change was listed as the UK’s first thematic priority, referred to as a key geostrategic issue with ramifications for migration, humanitarian aid, and national security. Second, there is a focus on Sustainable Development, including an ambition to reinvigorate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and a focus on the UK’s relatively new approach of “patient diplomacy”, through which the UK will work to foster long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships. The Refresh also lists seven initiatives which would be core to achieving the International Development Strategy published last year. 

Although not covered in the Refresh, our colleagues from the British Foreign Policy Group also highlighted the takeaways from Andrew Mitchell’s recent speech at Chatham House where he revealed the rebranding of UK Aid to UK International Development (UKID) designed to encapsulate the UK Government’s focus on patient diplomacy. 

Following a discussion in the session around the current and predicted figures for UK public support on International Development, the British Foreign Policy Group highlighted they will be publishing their annual survey of UK public opinion next month. The landmark survey tracks and explores public trends and perspectives on key issues from aid to climate change and trade. The BFPG, as co-convenors of the UK Soft Power Group, will also be releasing a paper next month outlining recommendations on how the UK can best harness its soft power assets, which may be of interest to members.

Written by:

Evie Aspinall, Eliza Keogh, Lara Mattaliano

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