The U.K.’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy has told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that it is “profoundly concerned about what appears to be a more relaxed approach to national security under this government”. It cites as evidence the “chaotic withdrawal” from Afghanistan, along with the lack of planning for the Covid-19 pandemic – with the government turning to ad-hoc arrangements for its crisis response in both cases.
Dame Margaret Beckett MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS, made up of senior MPs and Peers), said in a letter to the Prime Minister that the Committee was deeply troubled by a significant reduction in his personal engagement with the work of the National Security Council (NSC) and in the collective discussion of national security by other senior ministers. It also expressed concern about the relegation of national security as a spending priority.
The letter said that recent reports that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was planning to cut staff numbers by 10% by 2025 were “simply staggering”, given the government’s ambitions for ‘Global Britain’.
The Committee had been struck by the “apparent complacency and lack of urgency within government in the wake of the disastrous experience” for the U.K. and its allies in Afghanistan. The manner of the withdrawal from that country, Dame Margaret said, had exposed the NSC’s failure to direct unified, cross-government plans for identified contingencies, such as the rapid takeover by the Taliban. She also described the delay in setting up the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme by the Home Office as “unforgivable”.
The Committee has urged the Prime Minister to:
- Increase the frequency of his attendance at the NSC, chairing it at least once per fortnight;
- Designate a standing Chair of the National Security Ministers group, to improve the consistency of national security decision-making and implementation;
- Engage personally with the forthcoming National Resilience Strategy, as an opportunity to establish robust crisis-planning and risk management practices;
- Reinvigorate the NSC as the principal ministerial body for managing and assessing risks to the U.K.’s national security, by prioritizing it as an agenda item; and
- Lead by example through engagement with a ‘lessons learned’ process on Afghanistan, especially in relation to the events of the past two years.