Labour’s Emily Thornberry has coined the PM’s mini reshuffle as nothing but “moving deckchairs on a “sinking ship”. Rishi Sunak has made Grant Shapps Defence Minister while giving Claire Coutinho the energy portfolio. She replaces Shapps as Energy Minister as MP MP David Johnston is taking her post at the Department for Education.
Ahead of a more significant reshuffle in early September, Rishi Sunak has chosen Grant Shapps to replace the much-lauded Ben Wallace, who resigned earlier today from his post and intends to stand down at the next general election. Shapps may be an experienced politician, but his defence credentials and experience are non-existent. Speaking on Sky News, a former British Army chief of staff said:
“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.
“I think there is a risk that certainly the debate on resources for defence stagnates, at least until Grant Shapps can get his head around his portfolio.”
One Downing Street source told Sky News that Shapps’ appointment was “so depressing”, with another adding:
“Grant’s solid but not a military warrior!”
Former army officer Ben Wallace has been in charge of the UK’s response to the war in Ukraine, a role many believe he filled with great skill. As many countries risk slipping into war fatigue, it will fall to Shapps to continue galvanising international support.
Granting the army a substantial funding boost to modernise operations and replace ageing weaponry is another pressing issue the new Defence Secretary will have to tackle head-on. The partnership with the US and Australia requires the UK to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered vessels while updating its existing submarine fleet. Defence experts have pointed out the complexity of the tasks and the need for solid leadership, meaning Grant Shapps will have to learn and act fast.
Despite having “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change”, Claire Coutinho joins the cabinet as Energy Minister in a move that does and doesn’t surprise. After the by-election defeat in Uxbridge, which many put down to the expansion of the London ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), Sunak seems keen to keep the cost of climate measures to a minimum for members of the public. He seized voter sentiments during a row over ULEZ, putting himself “on the side of motorists”. Coutinho is the MP for East Surrey. After stints at investment bank Merrill Lynch and the Treasury, the MP served first at the Department for Work and Pensions and subsequently at the Department of Education.
No one is likely to consider her an eco-warrior. When the legal challenge to stop the ULEZ expansion failed, she expressed “deep disappointment”. Her views likely align with the PM’s meaning climate policy must never put voters out of pocket. Many experts believe the Conservatives will purposely de-prioritise climate measures to boost their chances of winning the next general election.
For her part, the new Energy Secretary will likely work to boost offshore wind, innovation, and jobs while expanding North Sea oil and gas. The Tories, meanwhile, will continue to make out that the opposition leader loves Just Stop Oil and hates cars and planes.
Both Shapps and Coutinho count among staunch Sunak supporters, which is the reason many commentators believe they got their new jobs in his mini reshuffle.