What is top of the in-tray for new Defence Secretary Grant Shapps?

By Isaac M August 31, 2023

Grant Shapps takes over as Defence Secretary at a key moment as the war in Ukraine rages on and debates continue about the future of the British armed forces.

Below are some of the most pressing items on the new Defence Secretary’s to-do-list.

– The war Ukraine

As defence secretary Ben Wallace was a vocal advocate of the need to send support to Ukraine in its war effort against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

A Ukrainian counter-offensive is reportedly making gains in the southern front of the war, but the conflict still shows little sign of resolution.

Calls from Kyiv for more Western weaponry are unlikely to go away as the war progresses and decisions on what and how much to send will be a key question for the next defence secretary.

Mr Wallace himself caused a diplomatic stir earlier this year when he said that the UK and US were “not Amazon” when it came to Kyiv’s requests for weapons and military equipment.

Kyiv is also still pushing for Nato membership, a thorny issue for current members.

– Funding

Mr Wallace made little secret of his desire to boost funding of the UK armed forces and he used his resignation letter to the Prime Minister to again stress the necessity of investing in defence.

The Government has committed to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP when economic and fiscal conditions allow.

The share of funding allocated to defence spending in the next Budget by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is likely to be watched closely on both the Government and Opposition benches.

– Troop numbers

The Ministry of Defence has faced repeated questions from party colleagues and other MPs about whether the current size of the British Army is sufficient.

MPs have repeatedly sought assurances that cuts to Army personnel will not undermine the military, with the new minister likely to continue to face questions about the balance between troops and technology in a modern army.

– China

While Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s China trip was a clear attempt to ease relations between the West and Beijing, simmering tensions are unlikely to go away.

The UK Government believes China’s emergence as a major power poses an “epoch-defining challenge” to the international order, but some hawks on the Tory backbenches want ministers to go further amid concerns about the threat the country poses to national security.

As Defence Secretary, Mr Shapps will play a key role in nuancing and directing the UK’s approach to China.

– New British Army chief

Mr Shapps could soon be working with a new head of the British Army, with Lieutenant General Roly Walker tipped to replace General Sir Patrick Sanders.

That will be a key relationship for the new Defence Secretary to develop.


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