Another brand-new disease pandemic is a “realistic possibility” by 2030, the UK government has warned in the biggest review of threats to the UK since the Cold War.
The 120-page Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy warns a disease outbreak with the impact of Covid-19 could be just a few years away.
And it is made more likely by more intense agriculture and loss of habitats, which will increase human-animal contact.
It comes after Covid wreaked the worst financial havoc on the UK economy for three centuries.
In his foreword to the Integrated Review, Boris Johnson said when work began on the document in early 2020 “we could not have anticipated how a coronavirus would trigger perhaps the greatest international crisis since the Second World War, with tragic consequences that will persist for years to come.
“Covid-19 has reminded us that security threats and tests of national resilience can take many forms.”
The document adds: “Infectious disease outbreaks are likely to be more frequent to 2030.
“Many will be zoonoses – diseases caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites that spread from animals to humans – as population growth drives the intensification of agriculture and as the loss of habitats increases interaction between humans and animals.
“Another novel pandemic remains a realistic possibility.”
The grim findings came in a wide-ranging report that warns terrorists will “likely launch a successful chemical, biological or nuclear attack by 2030”.
Boris Johnson hailed a £24billion investment in defence as he unveiled the findings of the Integrated Review in the Commons today.
But he faced anger from Tories for failing to harden the UK’s stance on China – and from left-wingers for failing to commit to foreign aid and hiking the UK’s number of nukes.
The UK’s stock of up to 180 warheads will rise to up to 260 under plans in the review – despite the UK’s commitment to nuclear “non-proliferation”.
Downing Street claimed the commitment didn’t actually ban the UK from getting more nukes. But the Peace Pledge Union vowed to stage non-violent protests, adding: “In the midst of a global pandemic, rising unemployment, a mental health crisis and the climate emergency, Boris Johnson seems to think he can make us safe with warheads.
“Ministers plan to spend billions on a policy that will make the whole world less safe, just as they are claiming that they can’t afford a decent pay rise for nurses or current levels of overseas aid.”
Meanwhile, there is no commitment of when UK aid spending will return to the Tory manifesto commitment of 0.7% of GDP. But Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said “weasel words on aid won’t wash” and demanded a return to the 0.7%, which was ditched due to Covid.
Troops will be deployed “more often and for longer periods of time” – but the Army is expected to be cut by around 10,000 troops.
Force Challenger 2 main battle tanks are set to be reduced by a third and the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle axes altogether.
In return there would be a new generation of warships and fighter jets, outlined in a defence command paper next week.
Downing Street confirmed plans for a £9.3m White House-style Situation Centre under Whitehall to react to future crises.
And a new Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre will bring together police and spies in a “state-of-the-art facility”.
The document maps out plans for the armed forces to adopt AI and focus on “the future battlefields of space and cyber.”
And it pledges “a new government foreign policy of increased international activism”, where the UK “shapes” the flourishing of democracies.
There will also be a strategic “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region, where the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will visit later this year. Boris Johnson is due to visit India next month in his delayed first major foreign visit since Brexit.
Boris Johnson hailed the Integrated Review as a “vital instrument” in the Government’s vision of “uniting and levelling up” across the UK.
He told the Commons: “The overriding purpose of this review, the most comprehensive since the Cold War, is to make the United Kingdom stronger, safer and more prosperous whilst standing up for our values.
“The review describes how we will bolster our alliances, strengthen our capabilities, find new ways of reaching solutions and relearn the art of competing against states with opposing values.”
He added: “There is no question that China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours. But we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests.”
But Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, said the Review had missed an opportunity to ‘finally call out China for the strategic threat it is”. And Tory MP Julian Lewis accused his own party of years of “grasping naivety” with the country.
Hitting back, Mr Johnson said: “Those who call for a new Cold War on China, or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China, which seems to be the new policy of the Opposition… are I think mistaken.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the review was built on “foundations that have been weakened over the past decade” – with defence spending and Armed Forces pay both falling in real terms.
And he slammed the government for “selling arms to Saudi Arabia and cutting aid to Yemen” at the same time.
Sir Keir said there is “a very real risk” that the armed forces will be “stripped back even further”.
He told the Commons: “Britain should and could be a moral force for good in the world. After a decade of neglect, this review was the chance to turn a corner – but there is now a very real risk that our armed forces will be stripped back even further and that this review won’t end the era of retreat, in fact it will extend it.”
The report also warns that on current trends, global deaths related to antimicrobial resistance will rise from 700,000 to 20 million per year by 2050.
The review sets out the need for national and international measures to prepare for another pandemic.
“The Government will continue to prepare for and respond to individual risks, whether terrorism, flooding or a new pandemic,” the report said.
“Learning the lessons of Covid-19, we will also seek to build a better understanding of the UK’s strengths and weaknesses, and improve our national preparedness and readiness across the whole risk lifecycle, from anticipation to recovery.”
When coronavirus hit, the Government was forced to rapidly scale-up its testing capacity and engage in a scramble to obtain personal protective equipment.
The Government has now committed to “review our national stockpile of clinical countermeasures and consumables such as personal protective equipment, expanded testing capability and laboratory equipment”.
Mr Johnson has already pushed for international action, using the UK’s G7 presidency to call for the development of vaccines to be cut to 100 days and the possibility of an international treaty on pandemic preparedness.