What do development advocates want from the UK's integrated review?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office headquarters. Photo by: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office / CC BY

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy has been an uncertain process for civil society, but campaigners hope their ideas will be taken on board.

The results of the review — set to be published in the autumn — were originally expected to provide evidence on the pros and cons of a potential merger between the former Department for International Development and Foreign & Commonwealth Office. But with that decision having already been taken, the review will instead guide the work of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, among other things.

Many NGOs are submitting evidence to the review, though there is some skepticism about how seriously their work will be taken.

But development experts maintain that the contributions of the sector — with its experience across health, environment, economic development, and peace building — are essential for helping the government build an effective international policy.

UK's integrated review accused of lack of serious consultation

Some in the development sector say the substance of the government's integrated review of international policies has already been decided.

There has been little public information available on the review but among its aims are “a world order in which open societies and economies flourish [and] a more resilient world, well on the path to net zero by 2050,” according to a call for evidence published in August.

A particularly stark absence is a definition of “security” to be used in the review.

“That’s pretty vital,” said Lewis Brooks, U.K. policy and advocacy coordinator at Saferworld. He told Devex: “There will be a hierarchy of different challenges and priorities for U.K. security that the government will have in mind and it needs to lay those out, and so to do that it needs a definition of what it means by security.”

The government needs an approach where “it understands that international peace and security is in the U.K. interest because increasing conflict and foreign terrorism shrink the club of human rights abiding and democratic states,” Brooks said.

“Conflicts and authoritarianism can threaten economic development overseas and therefore U.K. trading interests and also cause huge suffering and humanitarian crises which the U.K. rightly feels morally obliged to try and support,” he added.

“We’re very keen to ensure that the U.K. government is playing its role as a … champion of the international rules-based system.”

— Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy, and research, Bond

The Sustainable Development Goals — sometimes described as encapsulating the risks facing humanity — were frequently cited as a key blueprint for how the government should approach international policy.

“They [the SDGs] definitely shouldn’t just be dismissed as something for development people to care about, they should be a whole of government agenda,” Brooks said.

Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy, and research at Bond, a network of U.K. development NGOs, agreed. “We would see the SDGs as absolutely central to the integrated review,” he said.

“If you want to have … a more resilient, stable world there is an existing framework for a lot of that, and that’s the SDGs. That has to be at the heart of the government’s approach, domestically and for the FCDO.”

Starling added that the review was a chance to put “development at the heart of [the] U.K.’s foreign policy and cement the country’s position as a positive player on the world stage.”

Maintaining the progress the U.K. government has made in development work — and applying it across government departments — is crucial, said Laurie Lee, chief executive at CARE International UK. “That’s about the transparency of the aid, the quality and effectiveness of the aid, it's about being focused on the poorest countries and poorest people, because that’s where it makes the most difference,” Lee said, adding the government should aim to reduce gender inequality and boost inclusivity.

“DFID made real efforts in those areas, and it's really important that all of the rest of U.K. aid is levelled up to the DFID standard,” he said.

The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should also play a key part of the U.K.’s future international policies, according to Alastair Russell, public affairs adviser at Save the Children.

According to Russell, the U.K. should be “playing a progressive role to make sure the ‘build back better’ agenda focuses on the poorest and leaving no one behind, issues like building strong health and education systems which have been completely ravaged by the pandemic.”

Underpinning many ambitions for the integrated review was a desire for the U.K. to promote multilateralism and the global order.

“We’re very keen to ensure that the U.K. government is playing its role as a … champion of the international rules-based system,” Starling said.

Russell added: “If there are actors which are weakening those [international] norms, weakening those institutions, that promote development, promote freedom and equality, peace and security, then the U.K. should be playing a role to push back against that and defend those rules and norms.”

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.