Grant Shapps got the defensive back job in a small reshuffle

  • Written by Chris Mason and Sam Francis
  • BBC News

video caption,

Watch: A 60-second recap of Grant Shapps’ five jobs last year

Rishi Sunak has promoted Cabinet veteran Grant Shapps to the role of Defense Secretary in a small reshuffle of his senior team.

Shapps, who held five ministerial posts in the past year, replaces Ben Wallace, who will leave politics at the next election.

His appointment was not widely expected, but he is seen as a safe hand and an effective communicator.

Sunak’s ally Claire Coutinho replaces him as Energy Minister.

It is a major promotion for Ms Coutinho, who has been an MP since 2019, and, at 38, she will be the youngest minister to sit at the Cabinet table.

She is seen by her colleagues as intelligent and competent, but she faces the difficult task of bringing the different wings of her party together on the government’s commitment to net zero.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate change secretary, said her appointment “speaks volumes about the failure of Tory policy, as we are now the sixth foreign secretary since 2019”.

He added: “Redistributing seats will not achieve the appropriate energy policy that Britain needs.”

Some Conservative MPs had expected Sunak to conduct a broader reshuffle, ahead of next month’s Conservative Party conference and the King’s Speech, which sets out the government’s priorities.

But the Prime Minister, who had to replace Ben Wallace after he announced his resignation as Defense Secretary after four years, has chosen to play it safe for now.

Some expect a broader cabinet reshuffle before the next general election, although some Conservatives fear the Prime Minister is running out of time.

‘looking forward’

Shapps paid tribute to Mr Wallace’s “enormous contribution to British defense and global security over the past four years”.

He added: “I look forward to working with the brave men and women of our armed forces who defend the security of our country.”

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Madame Coutinho will be the youngest minister at the cabinet table

Mr. Shapps has held seven ministerial positions since 2012.

Last October, he spent six days as Home Secretary during the chaotic final week of Liz Truss’s premiership, after Suella Braverman resigned from the role.

He was then appointed Business Secretary by Sunak, when he became Prime Minister after Ms Truss.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr Shapps has played a visible role in the UK’s support for the country.

He took part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, hosting a family of refugees at his home in Hertfordshire.

Shapps visited Ukraine last week, in his previous role as Energy Secretary, to highlight the UK government’s role in ensuring supplies of enriched uranium for the country’s nuclear power stations.

“political appointee”

Shapps’ lack of experience in foreign affairs, defense and security has alarmed some Conservative MPs and military figures.

An unnamed minister said Sunak preferred “media over capacity”.

They added, “Today’s program minister is the Minister of Defense.”

Former British Army Commander Lord Dannatt said: “The big question is whether Grant Shapps will be a political appointee to support the Prime Minister in the Cabinet or whether he will understand the needs of defence.

“He will have to work hard to understand his portfolio at Whitehall level and how the armed forces operate.”

Labour’s shadow defense secretary, John Healey, congratulated Shapps on his appointment.

He said he would work with his counterpart “to keep our country safe” but added that “after 13 years of Tory defense failures, a change at the top will not change that record.”

Richard Ford, a Lib Dem defense spokesman, said Sunak had appointed a “go-to man” who would be responsible for “reducing troop numbers by 10,000 troops”.

“They have taken the armed forces for granted for too long, and as a result we are all less safe,” Ford said.

David Johnston, a Conservative, takes on Coutinho’s role as children’s minister at the Department for Education.

Wallace, who served as Defense Secretary under three prime ministers, said he would step down “to invest in aspects of life that I have neglected, and to explore new opportunities.”

in resignation letter, Wallace said his military and political career had taken a “personal toll on me and my family.”

Mr Wallace leaves Parliament as one of the Government’s longest-serving ministers.

As Secretary of Defense, he oversaw the evacuation of personnel from Afghanistan. He became a prominent and ardent supporter of Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, cajoling other countries to respond to President Zelensky’s call for weapons to repel the Russian threat.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Wallace “sets an example” whose work “has inspired other countries to join in helping Ukraine.”

In a statement, Reznikov said he wanted to thank his “friend and colleague” for “everything he has done for Ukraine while in office”.

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