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Shapps in fifth Cabinet role in a year as Sunak appoints him Defence Secretary

Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA

By Sam Blewett, Dominic McGrath, Nina Lloyd and Martina Bet, PA Political Staff

Grant Shapps has been promoted to Defence Secretary as Rishi Sunak handed him his fifth Cabinet role in a year in a mini-reshuffle prompted by Ben Wallace’s resignation.

With an eye on a general election, the Prime Minister brought another ally closer by moving up Claire Coutinho from education minister to replace Mr Shapps as Energy Secretary.

Mr Shapps said he was “honoured” to take over from Mr Wallace and vowed to continue British support for Ukraine in its fight against Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric invasion”.

But, having never held a role at the Ministry of Defence, his credentials to take on the role during a major war in Europe were questioned.

Lord Richard Dannatt, a former chief of the general staff of the British Army, praised Mr Wallace for doing a “good job” in his four years in the post.

“And now we have a new Defence Secretary who knows very little about defence, and it’s a complex portfolio. It will take him quite some time to get up to speed,” Lord Dannatt told Sky News.

Former armed forces minister Mark Francois, a member of the Commons Defence Committee, said it will be an “incredibly tough act to follow” for Mr Shapps.

“I think, to put it mildly, because it’s such a complex department, this is going to be a very steep learning curve for Grant Shapps,” the Tory MP told GB News.

“Grant Shapps is a bright bloke, but he’s going to have to come up with the speed very, very quickly.”

Mr Shapps is seen as an effective communicator and will be key for Mr Sunak as he leads the Tories towards the general election, expected next year.

The war in Ukraine had been a prominent feature of Mr Shapps’ tenure as energy secretary, as he sought to mitigate the effects on fossil fuel availability.

He visited Kyiv last week and his family has hosted Ukrainian refugees in their home after the Russian president launched his invasion last year.

Mr Shapps is one of Westminster’s most prolific users of TikTok, where he covered his own trip to Ukraine despite ministers being banned from using the Chinese-owned app on official devices over security concerns.

Mr Sunak first appointed him to the role of business secretary on his entrance to No 10. Mr Shapps served as Liz Truss’s home secretary for six days and Boris Johnson’s transport secretary until September.

Climate campaigners welcomed Mr Shapps’ departure from the energy brief.

Friends of the Earth said: “He seemed to be more concerned with playing childish politics on social media than the serious policies needed to address the greatest challenge of our time.”

Mr Wallace confirmed his departure as defence secretary on Thursday morning after announcing his intentions last month.

No 10 will hope appointing a close ally to the role will cool tensions over spending, with Mr Wallace having frequent run-ins in an attempt to boost MoD coffers.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote: “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.”

Mr Sunak praised Mr Wallace, who was a captain in the Scots Guards before entering politics, for having “served our country with distinction”.

The Prime Minister had been expected to launch a full reshuffle before the Tory party conference in October but now appears to be holding off.

Conservative MP David Johnston was given his first ministerial role as he steps up from the backbenches to replace Ms Coutinho as education minister.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey congratulated Mr Shapps for being appointed Defence Secretary but hit out at “13 years of Tory defence failures”, arguing that “a change at the top will not change this record”.

The Liberal Democrats accused Mr Sunak of appointing a “yes man” to the key role, calling for an end to the Tories’ ministerial “merry-go-round”.


Chief Minister Fabian Picardo KC MP on Thursday wrote to Mr Wallace following his resignation from the post of Secretary of State for Defence.

In his letter, the Chief Minister thanked Mr Wallace for his unstinting support for Gibraltar throughout his time as Defence Secretary and wished him all the best for the future.

Mr Picardo also wrote to incoming Defence Secretary Mr Shapps and congratulated him on his appointment on behalf of the Government and people of Gibraltar.

The Chief Minister said he looked forward to working with Mr Shapps in his new role and assured him of the support of His Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar in whatever way Mr Shapps required.

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