Ben Wallace has announced he is quitting politics at the next general election and will step down as defence secretary in the next cabinet reshuffle.
Wallace is reported to have had a bust-up with Suella Braverman after the home secretary asked for soldiers to cover for Border Force staff who are striking over pay.
The Mail on Sunday reports that Wallace refused Braverman demand for 750 troops to “fill in for immigration officials who strike or are absent,” according to the Independent.
Wallace said the home office should have made contingency plans with a source telling the Mail: “The home secretary must not be allowed to always rely on our hard-working armed forces to be there to mop up for Home Office incompetence. If she was so worried, she should have planned ahead.”
With fears of further strikes by Border Force, Braverman asked for 750 army personnel to cover immigration posts at airports and sea ports to minimise disruption. Wallace is reported to only want “to spare 250 troops, in order to avoid cancelling leave.”
The row is not believed to have influenced Wallace’s decision to resign given he told prime minister Rishi Sunak about his intention a month ago (June 16). He will quit parliament completely and stand down as an MP at the next election.
Having had his aspiration to become head of Nato dashed, Wallace told the Sunday Times that he wants to “finish this job [politics] and go back to normality”.
He said he’s been in politics since being elected to the Scottish parliament in 1999. “That’s 24 years. I’ve spent well over seven years with three phones by my bed.”
He is a popular within Conservative ranks and was tipped to be leader before he ruled himself out of the race to succeed Boris Johnson last summer.
The longest serving Conservative defence secretary in history sparked controversy at last week’s Nato summit in Lithuania when he compared Ukraine to an Amazon shopper and suggested it should show more “gratitude” for the support it has received.
“Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude,” the UK’s defence secretary said at the Nato summit. “I told them that last year, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list, that I’m not like Amazon.”
Last night (June 15), Wallace posted to Twitter in Ukrainian, saying his “comments about how best to support Ukraine caused a lot of interest and were somewhat misrepresented.”
In a lengthy thread, he added, “for the record” that he “has been at the forefront of mobilising support for Ukraine” to help it defeat the “illegal invasion”.
“I said that Ukraine sometimes needs to realise that in many countries and in some parliaments there is not such strong support as in Great Britain,” Wallace continued.
“The comments about Amazon were made last year to emphasise that Britain’s relationship with Ukraine is not ‘transactional’ but more ‘partnership’.
“I will personally continue to support Ukraine on its path for as long as it takes, but national parliaments often have competing needs and Ukraine and the UK must continue to encourage this strong support, with facts and friendship.”
Wallace, the MP for Wyre and Preston North, is the longest continuously serving minister in government. He was appointed as a Northern Ireland minister by David Cameron in 2015 before being made security minister by Theresa May. Johnson promoted him to defence secretary where he has continued under Liz Truss and Sunak.
Security minister at the home office Tom Tugendhat is the leading early contender to replace Wallace, reports the Telegraph. Former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and former justice secretary Brandon Lewis are also in the running, as too foreign office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan. Wallace is reported to “prefer” his deputy in the ministry of defence James Heappey while John Glen, the chief secretary to the Treasury is also a possibility.