Grant Shapps: Former army chief says armed forces are watching to see if minister has what it takes as defence secretary

General Lord Richard Dannett says there were others more qualified for the defence secretary job

The British Army’s former chief of staff says the armed forces will be watching to see how quickly Grant Shapps gets to grips with his new job as UK defence secretary.

Mr Shapps was appointed to the defence brief on Thursday after former secretary of state Ben Wallace resigned after four years in the job.

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Now General Lord Richard Dannatt, a member of the House of Lords and former chief of staff in the army, said there were other candidates with greater experience the Prime Minister could have chosen.

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. Image: Daniel Leal/Getty Images.UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. Image: Daniel Leal/Getty Images.
UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. Image: Daniel Leal/Getty Images.

Lord Dannatt is now keen to see if Mr Shapps will “keep defence on the backburner” to please Rishi Sunak.

“Grant Shapps has no background in foreign affairs or defence,” Lord Dannatt told the BBC. “That in itself doesn’t create a problem – it’s how quickly and enthusiastically he decides to embrace the defence portfolio.

“All departments are complicated, but defence is one of the most complicated and it has significant funding issues.

“We will be watching and waiting to see how much he gets to understand it and if he does the best for the defence of the nation.”

Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army. Picture: Habibur RahmanLord Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Lord Dannatt said Mr Shapps needed to listen carefully to the briefings he was given, form a good relationship with the existing chief of staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, and make time early on to meet some of the soldiers in the armed forces so he could understand the problems both on the ground and in Whitehall.

He said there was a “strong case” to say the UK Government should be spending more money on defence, particularly because of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Lord Dannatt said: “Countries bordering Russia have significantly increased their defence spending and there is a case for us to do the same. That’s why Ben Wallace was pressing the Treasury to do this and it will be interesting to see if Grant Shapps takes the same view.

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“Or has the Prime Minister sent someone to defence who will go quietly and keep defence on the backburner to take the problem away? Will we just have Grant Shapps supporting Rishi Sunak in Cabinet and kicking defence down the track? That’s the worry and that’s what people will be watching for.”

With a general election coming up next year, it is likely Mr Shapps will be in the job for less than a year, based on Labour’s positioning in the polls. But Lord Dannatt said there were many ongoing geopolitical crises Mr Shapps would need to grapple with in this time.

He said: “Ben Wallace was not overstating it to say in Europe, the immediate issue is the war between Russia and Ukraine, that is self-evidently a problem. But the last review of security defence tilted towards the Indo-Pacific and the rise of China as a regional and global power.

“This is something we need to take note of and support our allies in the region, particularly the Americans and Australians.

“There is the struggle with militant Islamism in the Middle East and elsewhere, which is spilling into Africa. We have just seen another militant coup in the Sahel region of West Africa.

“Ben Wallace was not wrong to point out this is an insecure world we live in, and that’s not even mentioning the migration crisis. We have to accept the world is an insecure place, and are we spending enough on the defence of our nation? Many would say we are not.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan criticised the appointment of Mr Shapps, saying: “He’s had five departments in 12 months, I’m not sure if that’s a ringing endorsement or an indictment.

“I’m not sure he’s the right person for the job but then again I don’t believe anybody in power at this moment in time is doing a good job for this country.”



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