Islamist terrorism is the prime threat to Britain's security both at home and abroad, the government's long-awaited defence and intelligence review has concluded.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that the security services will “work around the clock to stop would-be terrorists in their tracks” and in the last four years have prevented 28 atrocities.
In the ambitious Integrated Review launched on Tuesday, which outlines Britain’s strategic plans for the coming decade, Mr Johnson said he would strengthen the military with advanced weaponry, a new Space Command and more warships.
"Having left the European Union, the UK has started a new chapter in our history," Mr Johnson told parliament. "We will be open to the world, free to tread our own path, blessed with a global network of friends and partners, and with the opportunity to forge new and deeper relationships."
With an extra £24 billion ($33bn) over four years Britain has begun its "biggest programme of investment in defence since the end of the Cold War," Mr Johnson said. "This will demonstrate to our allies, in Europe and beyond, that they can always count on the UK when it really matters."
He focused on countering terrorism, which the review said remained a “major threat” to British citizens and interests at home and abroad. “Although the risks have evolved in recent years, Islamist terrorism continues to pose the primary threat to the UK,” it said.
With a commitment to at least 13 new Royal Navy warships Britain will continue its significant presence securing the shipping lanes in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden.
“We will work with our international partners to maintain secure global oil supplies, particularly in the Middle East,” the review said.
The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will also deploy to the region later this year, as well as the Indo-Pacific, as part of Britain’s “most ambitious global deployment for two decades”.
“She will demonstrate our interoperability with allies and partners and our ability to project cutting-edge military power in support,” Mr Johnson said.
Britain will look to rebuild its strong traditional alliances in the Gulf and wider Middle East to become “one of the region’s primary trade and investment partners,” as well as build support for climate objectives.
Its armed forces will also concentrate on a “more integrated security offer” to fight terrorism and help modernise security capabilities to “ensure lasting stability in the region”.
“Our armed forces will continue to contribute to the Global Coalition against [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria,” the review said. “We will also build upon our close security partnerships, including with Israel and Saudi Arabia, to better protect our interests in the region.”
In addition, the review focused on the UAE for collaboration in “life sciences and green technology” and countering illegal transactions. “We will also increase our cooperation with our close partner the UAE to tackle global illicit financial flows,” it said.
The review highlighted the strong likelihood of a major terrorist attack using either biological, chemical or nuclear weapons by 2030.
Britain was subsequently enhancing its homeland security to tackle security threats at home and overseas focusing on “radicalisation and terrorism”.
“We will continue to invest in this essential work, through increased funding for the intelligence agencies and Counter Terrorism Policing,” and an extra 20,000 policemen will be recruited.
New legislation will also be introduced to help fight terrorism and state threats, including the Covert Human Intelligence Source Act and the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill.
There will be a new £9.3 million Situation Centre close to Downing Street, as well as a Counter Terrorism Operations Centre to “to detect, disrupt and deter terrorist threats, and to address their underlying drivers”.
MI5 and MI6 to get funding boost
Overseas, Britain’s security services will concentrate on countering terrorists in the Horn of Africa, moving towards closer defence co-operation with Kenya and Ethiopia.
Britain’s spies at MI6 and MI5 are set to benefit with £695 million spent over the next four years on research and development for “cutting-edge capabilities”.
The IR promised to tighten immigration, stating that the UK would have “the most effective border in the world by 2025”. An extra £363m will be used to recruit 1,100 Border Force officers and the UK will increase technology to establish ‘ports of the future’ at key border crossing points.
UK defence review: eight measures to tackle terrorism
The document highlights a number of measures to crack down on terrorism and other crimes, some of which are already under way or in the pipeline.
1. Reinforcing "international governance of state access to CBRN weapons" and using intelligence to find out who seeks access to CBRN as well as stepping up efforts to "stop states from using research relationships with UK academia to steal intellectual property and obtain knowledge that could be used to develop CBRN weapons and their means of delivery, or advanced military technology".
2. Creating a state-of-the-art counter-terrorism operations centre to streamline the response of police and intelligence agencies in the event of an attack.
3. Reviewing the effectiveness of the radicalisation referral programme Prevent.
4. Introducing legal requirements on venue owners and operators of public spaces to take measures to keep the public safe from terror attacks.
5. Preventing terrorist activity online by working with technology companies to tackle illegal and legal but harmful material.
6. Trying to disrupt terror groups overseas and looking at the conditions that give rise to terrorism in other countries.
7. Boosting the National Crime Agency by developing data, intelligence and investigative capabilities to tackle criminals in the UK and overseas. At the same time capacity in regional organised crime units will be increased alongside local policing as part of plans to hire 20,000 more officers by 2023 – some of whom will be dedicated to tackling serious organised crime.
8. Stopping terrorists, criminals and illicit goods reaching UK streets by making UK border security more effective by 2025.