FILE PHOTO: British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace walks on Downing Street on the day of the last cabinet meeting before the summer recess, in London, Britain, July 18, 2023. REUTERS/Anna Gordon
FORMER energy minister Grant Shapps replaced Ben Wallace on Thursday (31) as Britain’s defence secretary, a promotion for a man relied upon by the government as a good media communicator but lacking in direct experience of the military.
An ally of prime minister Rishi Sunak, Shapps takes on the brief when Britain is trying to increase its production of weaponry, particularly artillery shells, to try to help Ukraine push back Russian forces and replenish its own stockpiles.
Shapps, 54, visited Kyiv earlier this month, announcing export finance guarantees and also visiting the kindergarten once attended by the young son of the family who now lives with him under Britain’s “Homes for Ukraine” scheme.
Sunak’s office said the King had approved his appointment.
It will be the fifth job for Shapps over the last year, after serving in four different ministries – as the minister for transport, interior affairs, business and then at energy and net zero. His appointment is unlikely to change Britain’s support for Ukraine against Russia.
Last month, Shapps joked to journalists about his role as the face as the government’s ‘crisis communications’, saying a junior official told him: “there isn’t anybody in the entire world who would want to be in your shoes right now” when he had to defend a former adviser over breaching Covid-19 restrictions.
Shapps follows Wallace, who confirmed his resignation as defence minister earlier in a letter to Sunak, offering the government his continued support while warning the British prime minister not to see defence as a “discretionary spend”.
Wallace, a former captain in the British army who helped lead Britain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said last month he wanted to step down after four years in the role and would quit as a lawmaker at the next national election to pursue new opportunities.
Seen as a strong advocate for increased spending on the armed forces, Wallace had hoped to be a potential successor to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg but Stoltenberg’s contract was extended by another year.
Wallace posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “That’s all folks. Been a privilege to serve this great nation.”
His frustration with not getting the NATO general secretary post earlier this year bubbled over at the military alliance’s summit last month, when he said Ukraine needed to show gratitude and not treat its allies like “Amazon”.
He later said in Ukrainian on Twitter that his comments “were somewhat misrepresented” and he instead wanted to emphasize that London’s relationship with Kyiv was not transactional but more of a partnership.
Sunak praised Wallace for his work, saying in a letter in response: “I fully understand your desire to step down after eight years of exacting ministerial duties.”