Boris Johnson “too relaxed” on national security, says joint committee

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Boris Johnson has been accused of taking a ‘more relaxed’ approach to British national security, with MPs warning the Whitehall machine was unable to cope with more than one major crisis at a time.

The Joint Committee on National Security Strategy – made up of high-ranking MPs and peers – said the fall of Afghanistan had shown that the current system was “unsuited to the task.”

However, he said reforms to the National Security Council (NSC) meant the prime minister would cut by about two-thirds the time he spent leading meetings.

In a very critical report, the commission said that the lack of preparation for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan could “only be described as a systemic failure”.

The NSC was originally established in 2010 by David Cameron with weekly meetings bringing together senior ministers and defense and intelligence chiefs chaired by the Prime Minister.

However, the committee said that a review by National Security Advisor Sir Stephen Lovegrove of its operation in the future would result in Mr Johnson chairing only around half of its meetings.

“More worryingly, the new model of the NSC risks becoming a halfway house: it is not a slower-paced forum to address the most fundamental issues facing UK national security,” nor a weekly meeting of senior ministers – convened and negotiated by the prime minister. – to tackle the most pressing problems, ”the report says.

“It is the Prime Minister’s personal investment of time and authority that gives credibility to the NSC and its intergovernmental structures.

“Yet under the new system, the Prime Minister will spend around 65% less time in NSC meetings than under the previous practice of weekly meetings when Parliament is in session.

“In our initial assessment, therefore, this is a retrograde step that suggests a more relaxed approach to national security.”

When the Covid crisis erupted, its structures were quickly abandoned in favor of “ad hoc and improvisational arrangements” – a decision the committee called a “serious mistake”.

He said that when the Afghan crisis erupted over the summer, it showed the government was “unable to prepare for and respond to two national security crises simultaneously”.

With an expert witness warning a one in six chance of an “existential catastrophe” over the next 100 years – from extreme climate change scenarios to nuclear conflict – the committee said there was an urgent need for reform.

The chairman of the committee, former Foreign Minister Dame Margaret Beckett, said: “The interest of the National Security Council is that it is supposed to prepare and act according to a long-term view of our risks. for national security. He should be above the hustle and bustle of daily concerns.

“But when two events – the Covid-19 pandemic and Afghanistan – once again demonstrated what a dangerous world we live in now, the weaknesses in the structures of the National Security Council were exposed.

“I pay tribute to the medical and military personnel and government officials who have worked so hard to respond to these two most recent crises.

“But their courageous efforts cannot mask the fundamental need for the center of government to master national security planning. “

A government spokesperson said the national security mechanism was being strengthened following the government’s integrated foreign and defense policy review earlier this year.

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