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Former energy secretary Grant Shapps was appointed as the UK’s defence secretary on 31 August 2023 following the resignation of Ben Wallace, who had occupied the post since 2019 and has now decided to leave politics.

Like his predecessor, Shapps is a strong advocate of spending more on defence. When he briefly ran for the Conservative Party leadership in July 2022 following the resignation of Boris Johnson, Shapps called for defence spending to be increased to 3% of GDP.

Wallace, meanwhile, wrote in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, “I know you agree with me that we must not return to the days where Defence was viewed as a discretionary spend by government and savings were achieved by hollowing out. 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.”

Thus far Sunak has only agreed to UK defence spending rising to 2.5% of GDP as and when economic circumstances allow.

In welcoming Grant Shapps (left) into his new ministerial role as UK defence minister, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) had significant praise for his predecessor, Ben Wallace. (Photo: Downing St)

Both Shapps and Wallace are also strong advocates for Ukraine. In his response to Wallace’s resignation letter Sunak acknowledged of the former defence secretary, “You saw, before others did, what Vladimir Putin’s true intentions in Ukraine were. Your determination to get Kiev weaponry before the Russians attacked had a material effect on the ability of the Ukrainians to thwart the invasion.”

Sunak added, “You have eloquently made the case that this is not simply an attack on a proud and sovereign nation, it is an attack on our values, European security and the open international order on which stability and prosperity have depended for three quarters of a century.”

Shapps, for his part, showed his support for Ukraine by taking in a family of Ukrainian refugees in April 2022.

As he settles into his new post, Shapps will have more than diplomatically and materially supporting Ukraine to deal with. Wallace’s tenure saw the UK join Australia and the United States in the AUKUS pact in September 2021: one of the most significant security treaties of the last decade or so.

At home, meanwhile, there are some major procurement issues, largely relating to land forces. The British Army’s GBP 5.5 Bn (EUR 6.42 Bn) Ajax armoured vehicle programme has still not been delivered, thwarting plans to stand up a modernised armour capability, and the army’s GBP 3.2 Bn Morpheus battlefield communications programme also looks to be in trouble; the programme will miss its original initial operational capability (IOC) target of 2025 and a new IOC is yet to be defined.

Peter Felstead