31 AUGUST 2023 | NEWS
Ben Wallace has stepped down as Secretary of State for Defence today after four years in the role, being replaced by Grant Shapps.
Despite a very favourable standing amongst members of the governing Conservative Party, according to regular ConservativeHome polling, the former Tory leadership candidate has announced that he is standing down in order to “invest in the parts of life that I have neglected”.
It is understood in Westminster that the appointment of a new Defence Secretary took place swiftly this morning. Mr Shapps was previously Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, and his former role has in turn been taken up by Claire Coutinho. Aged 38, and having been an MP only since the last General Election in 2019, she will be the youngest Minister around the Cabinet table.
Her opposite number, Shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, said the move “speaks volumes about the failures of Tory policy that we are now onto the sixth Secretary of State since 2019”, adding that a “reshuffling of the deckchairs will not deliver the proper energy policy Britain needs”.
Mr Miliband has also recently been the subject of controversy over the suggestion that he persuaded Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – if he were to become Prime Minister after the next election – to abandon all new oil and gas projects in the North Sea.
Mr Wallace, who had already announced his intention not to stand again as an MP at the next election, and who has been an MP since 2005, wrote in his resignation letter: “As I finish my tenure, I can reflect that the Ministry of Defence that I leave is now more modern, better funded and more confident than the organisation I took over in 2019.”
In praise of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, he also wrote: “The investment you made in Defence as Chancellor and the continued support you have shown as Prime Minister has been key to enabling the Ministry of Defence to deliver for Britain. I am personally very grateful for your leadership.”
However, in reference to his own military background and in an encouragement not to cut back on Armed Forces spending, he further warned: “I genuinely believe that, over the next decade, the world will get more insecure and more unstable. We both share the belief that now is the time to invest. Ever since I joined the Army, I have dedicated myself to serving my country. That dedication, however, comes at a personal toll to me and my family.”
Mr Wallace’s full resignation letter can be read here:Letter_from_Ben_Wallace_to_the_Prime_Minister
Mr Shapps, his replacement, has held a number of Cabinet posts in his time as an MP, including Transport Secretary, BEIS Secretary and (briefly) Home Secretary under the fleeting premiership of Liz Truss. He is also a former Chairman of the Conservative Party.
Praising his predecessor’s “enormous contribution” to the UK’s national and international defence efforts in recent years, Mr Shapps said he was “honoured” to be appointed to the role, adding: “I am looking forward to working with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who defend our nation’s security. And continuing the UK’s support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s barbaric invasion.”
On the Opposition benches, his opposite number John Healey (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence) congratulated Mr Shapps on his new role, but added in a statement: “The first duty of any government is to keep our country safe and I will always work with the new Defence Secretary on this basis, especially on military support for Ukraine and standing against Russian aggression.
“But after 13 years of Tory defence failings, a change at the top will not change this record. On further cuts to the Army, growing concerns over the UK’s NATO commitments, and billions of pounds being wasted through defence procurement, the Defence Secretary has serious questions to deal with in the days ahead.”
Elsewhere in Parliament, the Liberal Democrats said the move was part of a “Conservative Government merry-go-round”, with the party’s Defence Spokesman, Richard Foord adding: “A year ago, Grant Shapps admitted in his failed Conservative leadership campaign that he thought our Armed Forces should be strengthened. Now, the Prime Minister has instead put him in charge of slashing troop numbers by 10,000.”
There is a rumour in Westminster that this may indeed happen, and that Mr Wallace did not wish to oversee it.
As is typical for new Cabinet appointments, Mr Shapps will take up his new role with immediate effect.