In his question to Boris Johnson in the Commons earlier, as well as commenting on aid spending (see 1.24pm), Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative former foreign secretary, also expressed concern that the review was too soft on China. He said:
I am worried about designating China simply as a systemic challenge given the terrible events in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, so will [the PM] keep this under review?
It is often assumed that members of the armed forces are always gung-ho for spending on nuclear weapons. But often they’re not. On the World at One Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, suggested that money spend on expanding the nuclear weapons stockpile could be better deployed elsewhere. He said:
The significant issue is what is the incremental cost of that increase from 180 to 260 weapons, and what is the opportunity cost against further developments to some of our conventional capabilities?
We may well find that there are significant cuts to our conventional capabilities. The opportunity cost is what could be done with that money that’s gone on increased nuclear weapons, and where else could it have gone in our defence budget.
This is from my colleague Patrick Wintour, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, on Johnson’s statement to MPs about the integrated review.
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. There were questions about Laura Kuenssberg’s long read about what happened behind the scenes in government in the first year of the pandemic (see 10.45am), and the spokespeople repeatedly refused to deny that, at one point in the very early days, when the virus had just been confirmed in the UK, Boris Johnson was heard saying: “The best thing would be to ignore it.” We were told that Johnson’s comments at the start of the pandemic were a matter of record.
This is what Kuenssberg wrote about this anecdote.
Ministers and officials had already been meeting to discuss the virus in China – but it felt thousands of miles away. There was a “lack of concern and energy,” one source tells me. “The general view was it is just hysteria. It was just like a flu.”
The prime minister was even heard to say: “The best thing would be to ignore it.” And he repeatedly warned, several sources tell me, that an overreaction could do more harm than good.
These are from Lord Ricketts, a former head of the Foreign Office and former national security adviser, on the integrated review. They provide a useful, judicious overview.
Richard Drax (Con) asks if the government will expand the size of the army, not shrink it.
Johnson says, with the reserves, the size of the army will be over 100,000. But he says the government has had to modernise it to make up for the mistakes made under Labour.
And that’s it. The statement is now over.
Sir Roger Gale (Con) says he is proud of the fact the party committed to the 0.7% aid target in its manifesto. But the fall in the value of GDP has meant the value of this target in real terms has fallen. Will the government make up the gap by supplying spare quantities of the Oxford vaccine to developing countries?
Johnson says the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is going to be produced at low-cost all over the world under the deal struck with the government.
Johnson says the government has committed to providing wrap-around childcare for those serving in the armed forces.
Pauline Latham (Con) asks if Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) will be able to continue. There have been reports will be wound down.
Johnson says some of his family members have participated in VSO. He says the foreign secretary will make an announcement about it shortly.
Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab) asks how breaching article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is consistent with his claim to uphold international law.
Johnson says Labour is a “seething mass of contradiction” on the nuclear deterrent.
In response to a question from Darren Jones (Lab), Johnson tells MPs that the online safety bill coming later this year will address the problem of disinformation and threats to our democracy.
But Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative former foreign secretary, said he did not think a Commons vote was necessary for the aid budget to be cut, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.
My colleague Patrick Wintour says Andrew Mitchell’s comment (see 1.17pm) implies the government will be challenged via judicial review if it cuts aid spending without allowing a Commons vote.
Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former international development secretary, says the UK is the only country in the G7 cutting its aid budget. Doing so is in breach of the Tory manifesto, he says. He says if the government wants to do this, it should put it to a vote in the Commons. Otherwise it would be in breach of the law, he says.
Johnson says people are talking the UK downn.
He says the government will return to the 0.7% aid target when the financial situation allows it.
But the law (making the 0.7% spending target a statutory obligation) does allow the government to ignore it in “exceptional circumstances”, he says. And he says the UK is in exceptional circumstances.
This is an effective admission that the government will not put the decision to cut aid spending to a parliamentary vote. Ministers and No 10 have until now refused to confirm that no vote will be scheduled.