Reflections on the Integrated Review Refresh

Two years on from the publication of Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, and in light of ongoing geopolitical turbulence, earlier this week the UK released a refreshed version of the Review. The strategic document - entitled Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a more contested and volatile world - includes a number of key commitments on the UK’s role in the world, asserting the importance of collaboration and resilience to the future of UK security and prosperity. Below we’ve distilled some of the key takeaways for BEI members.

1. The Refresh has a global outlook and places partnerships at its heart

The Refresh stakes out an important role for the UK as a global leader across a range of sectors and provides a remarkably global outlook for the UK. The importance of partnerships lies at the heart of the Refresh, evidenced not least by the decision to release the Refresh while Sunak stood side-by-side with American and Australian allies at the AUKUS Summit. It views partnerships with a diversity of nations and across a range of sectors as key to ensuring both UK and global security and prosperity and commits to prioritising these. This is illustrated most clearly by the significant increase in appetite for working alongside allies in the Indo-Pacific and in the much more constructive tone towards relations with the European Union than was seen in the 2021 Review.

As an organisation focused on supporting members to explore business opportunities internationally, this focus on partnerships aligns with the very core of what BEI does and we anticipate and expect it will provide renewed opportunities for our members in their international activities.

2. There is continuing clarity and focus on the UK’s 2023 international development objectives and there has been further thinking on how to both elevate and better scrutinise the UK’s aid activities

Building on the four international development priorities outlined in the International Development Strategy published last year, the Refresh outlines the UK’s seven initiatives for achieving these priorities in 2023. These are:

● Reforming and greening the global financial system

● Championing global efforts to make global tax systems fairer and help recover money lost to illicit finance

● Delivering clean, green infrastructure and investment

● Campaigning to improve global food security and nutrition

● Leading a global campaign on ‘open science for global resilience’ to help lower-income countries access knowledge to improve their resilience

● Catalysing international work to improve global health resilience

● Facilitating a collective response to attacks on women and girls rights

The focus on climate change, food security and gender will be particularly welcome news for many of our members and the emphasis on the intersection of many of these challenges is positive. Climate change, for example, is recognised not just as an issue in

and of itself but also for the implications it has for migration, humanitarian aid and national security.

There has also been further thinking on how to best elevate the UK’s aid activities, including integration within the UK’s wider foreign policy and security ambitions - the Minister for International Development will have a permanent place on the National Security Council and a new second Permanent Secretary in the FCDO will focus on the UK’s development priorities. While previous references to the UK’s commitment to return to 0.7% GNI on aid and development ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ were notably absent, a new FCDO-HM Treasury governance structure will be established to provide greater oversight of aid spending.There is also a broad recognition of the need to work in partnership with others - both from the development world and further afield.

3. There will be further focus on the role of soft power and standards in UK foreign policy and there is a clear opportunity for BEI members to support the development of thinking required around this

A primarily defensive document, the Refresh focuses heavily on hard power and shoring up the UK’s domestic and international resilience. Nonetheless, soft power does get, an albeit brief, mention in the Refresh, with the Government committing to ‘do more to bring soft power into its broader foreign policy approach’. So too does the role ’Standards' can play , with recognition given to the importance of harnessing the UK’s capabilities in norms and standards, particularly in digital and technology, for shoring up UK resilience. These are important recognitions and chart a clear opportunity to better harness UK expertise and capabilities internationally as a key facet in achieving the UK’s foreign policy ambitions.

The Refresh’s thinking in this regard remains relatively top level and there is an opportunity, and need, to support government in developing this. Whilst BBC World Service and the British

Council are integral components of UK soft power, the narrow focus on these two institutions highlights that there is still a way to go in ensuring the government has a full understanding of the sheer depth and breadth of British soft power and expertise. The UK’s reputation, and the work of our members, in everything from education to space, from skills development to monitoring ESG are important to shaping perceptions of the UK internationally and can be better harnessed by the UK in support of its international objectives. We must also now look towards implementation and how concretely the UK can embed this ambition into its foreign policy and best utilise the strength and expertise of British businesses, organisations and institutions in promoting UK soft power in all its forms.

4. The UK will continue to prioritise tackling climate change and biodiversity loss

Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is identified as the UK’s first thematic priority in the Refresh, in line with commitments made in the 2021 Review. Although few new commitments are offered, the Refresh reaffirms some important statements on climate change, which it recognises as a threat multiplier and a geostrategic issue.

This includes recognition that six of the top ten risks for the next decade identified by the World Economic Forum relate to climate, the environment and nature. It also includes an appreciation of the implications climate change has for global migration, humanitarian needs and the Sustainable Development Goals. In turn, the Refresh reaffirms commitments to protecting biodiversity as agreed through the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and to galvanising efforts to keep the 1.5 degree target alive.

Beyond this, the Refresh is light on detail on the exact nature of the UK’s international climate priorities but it pledges that more detail will be given in the upcoming 2030 Strategic Framework for International Climate and Nature Action. This will include plans for delivering the remainder of the UK’s £11.6 billion International Climate Finance commitment for the period 2021/22 to 2025/26, enacting Just Energy Transition Partnerships and facilitating progress on loss and damage funding.

5. The Refresh identifies a number of clear regional objectives which align closely with BEI’s regional focus and priorities

The Refresh emphasises the importance of partnerships both with our traditional allies and with ‘middle-ground’ powers and provides a clear map of the different thematic priorities across a variety of regions. Some of the most important objectives for BEI members to note are:

● Indo-Pacific - Ambitions to support a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific through the creation of long-term enduring partnerships in the region lie at the heart of the Refresh. There is a continued focus on regional security and increased support for working with partners and institutions to do this. Key priorities include implementation of AUKUS, negotiations over the UK-India Free Trade agreement and strengthening trade, climate and security partnerships with Vietnam and the Philippines.

● Middle East - The UK’s priority in the Middle East, beyond regional stability, is focused heavily on energy. The Refresh therefore prioritises continuing to build energy partnerships with the Gulf states particularly around renewable energy projects and carbon capture and storage.

● Africa - In Africa the Refresh highlights that the UK’s approach will focus on appreciation of the needs and perspectives of partners, with thematic focuses on mutually beneficial development, security, clean infrastructure and climate adaptation. The UK will also host the next UK-Africa investment Summit in April 2024.

The Refresh provides a clear strategic outline for the UK’s future position in the world and we look forward to working with members and government alike to maximise the opportunities and overcome any challenges that this strategy presents.

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