Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, center left, visits Bovington Camp, a British Army military base where Ukrainian soldiers are training on Challenger 2 tanksInternationalIndiaAfricaBen Wallace has resigned as UK defense secretary, with Grant Shapps being quickly tapped to fill his shoes. What’s behind the latest reshuffle within the Sunak government?Ben Wallace informed UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about his decision to step down on Thursday morning. Having summarized Britain’s achievements during his tenure as security minister and at defense, Wallace wrote that he wants to «invest in the parts of life that I have neglected, and to explore new opportunities.»
Why Did Wallace Step Down?
Wallace signaled his willingness to resign earlier this summer. Being known as a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s militarization he, like many others in the West, could have been dissatisfied with the Kiev regime’s botched counteroffensive.In his resignation letter, he doubled down on the necessity to boost the UK’s defense funding: «I know you agree with me that we must not return to the days where defense was viewed as a discretionary spend by the government and savings were achieved by hollowing out.»Former PM Boris Johnson immediately reacted to this resignation, saying that he was «Sad to see the departure of my friend Ben Wallace. A fine defense secretary who got so many calls right — especially on Ukraine.»»Outgoing UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace widely trailed his departure over many weeks, stating his desire for a fresh personal challenge,» Matthew Gordon-Banks, a former British Conservative MP and senior research fellow at the UK Defence Academy, told Sputnik. «It is well known that his 24/7 on-call job as Defense Secretary cost him his marriage, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioners in their normal equalization of constituencies by population abolished his seat in Parliament at the next election. Whilst Wallace could have easily been selected for another safe seat, he has chosen to leave Parliament and is expected to take up some well-paid posts outside Parliament.»»Although Wallace is stepping down as Defense Secretary for personal and family reasons, and following his being blocked by the US for the job of heading NATO, he will be aware of the real situation inside Ukraine and Russia’s special military operation. His choosing to depart, when there was no likelihood of his being sacked, makes sure he will not be present if and when Ukraine collapses,» the former British MP continued.Russia’s Special Operation in UkraineWhy UK Training of Ukrainian Commandos to Seize Crimea is Waste of Time1 August, 14:29 GMT
Why Was Shapps Tapped?
Grant Shapps is a Tory with a long career who has previously been transport, energy and zero-net secretary. Per the British conservative press, Shapps appears to be «one of the safest pairs of hands»: he is loyal to Sunak and has proven to be a «capable» minister.When it comes to Shapps’ defense credentials, the UK media noted that he «conveniently visited Kiev in the past week»; used to briefly serve as the chair of the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group; and has been a member of the National Security Council. British journalists say that Shapps’ military expertise is not as impressive as that of his predecessor and that his major merit is that he will do what the premier tells him.
The crux of the matter is that the Sunak government distanced itself from then-Prime Minister Liz Truss' vow to spend a staggering 3% of GDP on defense by 2030. The present government pledged to boost the military funding to 2.5% "in the long term," as inflation still bites, economic growth is slowing and living standards plummeting. According to the Office for National Statistics, as of August 25, around half (51%) of adults across Great Britain have said they are spending more than usual to get what they normally buy when food shopping.
WorldFact Check: Have British Storm Shadows Proved Effective on Ukraine Battlefield?27 June, 19:16 GMTUnder these circumstances, any excessively enthusiastic secretary of defense could have become a curse for the Sunak cabinet. However, per the UK press, «Shapps is likely to play ball.»»Shapps will be seen as a safe pair of hands by Rishi Sunak, who has no personal ambitions to replace him as Party Leader after the next election,» said Gordon-Banks. «His appointment prevented a potential challenger for the leadership being appointed or of upsetting the balance within the Cabinet. Shapps is loyal to Sunak and has been a fairly effective Cabinet Minister in other roles. He will provide a ‘steady as you go’ continuation of existing UK defense policy in the run up to the next election.»
Where Does Shapps Stand on Ukraine and China?
Wallace was famous for his fierce support for Ukraine and his successor is likely to follow the same script, according to the expert.»The narrative of UK policy and rhetoric concerning Ukraine is unlikely to alter under Shapps, with the exception of continuing amendments in the media as the reality of Ukraine becomes more obvious and it is less and less possible to hide it from the British people. That said, if the US changes its own policy the UK will be forced to fall into line,» Gordon-Banks said.MilitaryUK Starts Deliveries of New Batch of Reconnaissance Drones to Ukraine — Defense Ministry18 August, 10:11 GMTWhen it comes to China the new defense appointee appears to be not against Chinese investments «when it’s safe to do so» but has «a really clear-eyed view about China.»»Although on the right wing of the Conservative Party, Shapps is a pragmatist, he sees no issue in doing business with China so long as that business is not a threat to the security of UK. His move to defence does not in any way mark a shift in the UK foreign policy; but he is more likely than his ex-army colleague, Ben Wallace, to be more open to business opportunities than perhaps his predecessor was. He was of course a business entrepreneur prior to entering politics,» said the former British MP.Sunak’s cabinet is hardly hawkish when it comes to China. Despite saying that Beijing represents a «challenge» to the world order, the UK prime minister is reportedly trying to fix Sino-British ties. PM Rishi Sunak and Chairman Xi Jinping may hold a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit, according to the British press. As Britain’s economy faces difficulties, London cannot throw its longstanding relations with Beijing into a dustbin, international observers say.WorldUK Foreign Secretary to Visit China on August 30 — Chinese Foreign Ministry29 August, 08:18 GMT