UK urged not to downgrade Europe and Middle East in strategic rethink

Foreign affairs committee tells government to set out thinking on Iran

The British navy ship HMS Queen Elizabeth sets off from England's southern coast. PA
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The UK has been warned against loosening ties with Europe and the Middle East in a planned rewrite of its foreign policy blueprint.

A greater focus on the Indo-Pacific and containing China should not come at the expense of alliances closer to home, MPs said.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised an update in the new year to the "integrated review" of foreign and security policy published in March 2021.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shaken up the geopolitical landscape since then, with ministers also increasingly concerned about China and Iran.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a keynote speech on Monday that "the world’s geopolitical centre of gravity is moving south and east".

But Alicia Kearns, who chairs the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said the phrase "Indo-Pacific tilt" often used by ministers was unhelpful.

"The UK is not tilting away from its Euro-Atlantic partners," she said.

"A careful balance must be struck between nurturing close ties with old friends and allies, particularly in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and forging newer partnerships elsewhere."

Ms Kearns's committee said in a 28-page report that the updated review should set out how Britain will prevent meddling by Iranian intelligence.

The new review "will need to reassure us that the government has clear plans for how it will challenge the rising threat of Iran," it said.

It said the 2021 review was "notably sparse" on relations with the Middle East and North Africa.

The review speaks of "thriving relationships" with the Gulf but calls for the region to become "increasingly self-reliant" in security matters.

MPs on the committee said this risked creating a perception that the government's interest in Middle East security was waning.

"The government should be careful to avoid any perception of disengagement from partners and fragile countries so close in proximity to our own," they said.

"Instability in Mena will threaten UK citizens at home.

"We urge the government to confirm whether it intends to deprioritise the Middle East and if so, how it will continue to promote peace and stability in these regions with fewer resources."

Another demand from MPs is to put resilience at the core of foreign policy, after the war and pandemic hit the UK with severe economic shocks.

A new national resilience tsar should ensure that this agenda is pursued across departments, said Ms Kearns, a Conservative MP.

One particular concern, shared by other western powers, is that economic reliance on China could prove a similar trap to pre-war ties with Russia.

"If we are to remain a heavyweight on the world stage, it is clear we need to become more resilient," Ms Kearns said.

"This will empower us to make decisions and take action based on what’s right, not out of necessity."

Updated: December 18, 2022, 12:01 AM