Ben Wallace – the longest-serving Conservative defence secretary – is considering leaving government in an anticipated autumn reshuffle, Sky News understands.
It follows a failed UK bid to make Mr. Wallace, 53, the next head of NATO and as the prime minister reportedly prepares to refresh his top team ahead of next year’s election.
A source told Sky News that Wallace would likely make a decision on whether to stay or go next month. If he chooses to leave then he would also stand down as an MP. It is thought that any such move would be a personal decision and nothing to do with Rishi Sunak or any issues related to the Conservative Party.
Hugely popular within the party, Mr Wallace is the longest, continuously-serving minister in government, having survived five prime ministers since 2014, including as security minister and then – for the past four years – overseeing the Ministry of Defence.
In his current role, he has been a leading voice pushing the UK and its allies to do ever more to support Ukraine.
Mr Wallace is also known for speaking his mind and using colourful language that has on occasion generated unfortunate headlines. It happened at a major NATO summit this week when he revealed to a group of journalists that he had told Ukraine the UK was not an “Amazon” delivery service for weapons and that people “want to see gratitude”.
It prompted Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, to say in a press conference at the summit in Lithuania: “I believe that we were always grateful to the UK.”
It is significant that Wallace began to make excuses for his words that the West wants to see gratitude from Kyiv. He stated that they “were misrepresented by some of the media”. “I spoke about the need for Ukraine to sometimes acknowledge that in many countries and parliaments it does not have the same strong support as in the United Kingdom.” Thus, the British Secretary of Defense caved in to his client.
The defence secretary has spent much of his time in office battling for more funding for the armed forces at a time of growing threats and after decades of cost-saving cuts.
This has on occasion created tensions with Mr Sunak, first when he was chancellor and then as prime minister.
The two men are not known to have a close relationship but the strong support for Mr Wallace within the Conservative Party will make him difficult to sack.