The United Kingdom (UK) was one of the first countries to launch a whole-of-government approach (WGA) in pursuit of its foreign and security interests. It was former Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997–2008) who was the first to demand that the British government “speak with one voice” on foreign and security issues, calling for “joined-up government”. In the intervening years, those efforts have been advanced by successive governments, which in turn has resulted in formal institutional, policy and financial arrangements.
The establishment of a WGA in the UK coincided with the government’s pursuit of an agenda of liberal interventionism, which evolved in response to lessons learned in successive military campaigns in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq (MCDC 2014; Stepputat and Greenwood 2013). More recently, the drivers for the furtherance of WGA have been related to the policy of austerity and the requirement across government to achieve economies of scale wherever possible.
Despite political declarations that austerity is at an end (May 2018b), the UK is unlikely to reverse its WGA. The forecasted economic consequences of leaving the European Union, and the consequent need and/or desire to demonstrate that Great Britain remains a global player of note, will require departments of state to act in a coordinated and consistent fashion.
The ability of departments to act in this way will be dependent on the extent to which civil servants adhere to existing policies and procedures. It seems unlikely that there will be any radical changes to foreign and security policy whilst the political agenda is consumed by the process and implications of leaving the EU. In the absence of direct political engagement on security issues, it has fallen to civil society organisations to outline the framework for future policies. One recently published paper advocated the further consolidation of WGA as a means to ensure a “global Britain” in the 21st century (Seely and Rogers 2019). The authors proposed a national strategy council, a national global strategy, integration of departments, establishment of joint effects teams, and the assessment and recalibration of development assistance.
At this juncture, it is better to anticipate modifications to the existing WGA rather than a complete reversal. Those changes are likely to affect institutional and financial arrangements as efforts are made to operationalise the new Fusion Doctrine, which was unveiled in the National Security Capability Review in 2018 (HM Government 2018). There are indications that the Department for International Development (DFID) will be brought more fully under the direction of the National Security Council (NSC), and that the types of projects that receive funding from the GBP 1.2 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) will be reviewed. These are, however, refinements to what is a well-established method of working to resolve and prevent conflict.