Who is new UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace?

Harry Lye 25 July 2019 (Last Updated January 20th, 2020 10:24)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appointed his new cabinet, and MP and former Scots Guardsman Ben Wallace has replaced Penny Mordaunt as Defence Secretary. But who is Wallace and what will he bring to the role?

Who is new UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace?
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. Credits: Houses of Parliament.

MPs say that like his predecessor, who was a reservist,  he is suited to the role due to his military service. Wallace’s appointment marks the end of the Mordaunt’s short – 84-day – tenure at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and he becomes the UK’s third defence secretary in as many years.

On leaving her role Mordaunt said: “I’m heading to the backbenches from where the PM will have my full support, as will my successors.

“Thank you to everyone who’s helped me get things done, especially our Armed Forces and civilians in defence for the last 85 days. We achieved much.”

Wallace said after the announcement of his appointment: “As a former officer with the Scots Guards, it is an honour to take up this role at the Ministry of Defence.

“I look forward to getting started and meeting colleagues from across the department and our military.”

Like many appointed to the cabinet’s top jobs, Wallace was a staunch supporter of Johnson during his election campaign, recently coming to his defence after claims the new Prime Minister had been denied access to secret intelligence.

Wallace tweeted at the time: “No Minister – Cabinet or junior sees all intelligence. They see what is relevant to their briefs & warranty. He was never not Cut out of any loop. The “need to know” principal always applies.” [sic].

Wallace has served in Government as Minister for Security and Economic Crime since 2016. This promotion sees him taking a Great Office of State for the first time. At 19 Wallace attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he trained before entering the Scots Guards at 20.

Serving in Northern Ireland, Germany and Cyprus from 1990 to 1998, official despatches from Northern Ireland in 1992 mentioned Lt Robert Ben Lobban Wallace for his service.

After leaving the army Wallace was the overseas director of British multinational defence company QinetiQ. These appointments seem set to give Wallace a firm base to step into Defence HQ.

During the expenses scandal, the Telegraph revealed that Wallace had been claiming £29,000 a year to employ his wife as a part-time research assistant as part of his parliamentary team. Wallace, however, was the first MP to make their expenses public, earning him the Spectator’s campaigner of the year award.

In his position as Minister for Security, Wallace was instrumental in criminalising travel to ‘designated areas’ under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act. The law given royal ascent in February can punish people who travel to places like Syria with up to 10 years in prison.

Wallace became an MP in 2005, holding several posts in the then Conservative shadow-government,  from Shadow Scotland Minister to Ken Clarke’s parliamentary private secretary.

Wallace is a believer in shrinking government saying: “Government should be in the business of rewarding aspiration and not in the business of protecting privilege. It should stand up for those who live by the rules.”

This is an approach he could bring this approach to the MOD. A challenge Wallace will face is the increasing funding issues stretching the armed forces ever thinner. The Royal Navy’s fleet of 13 frigates can barely police the world’s waterways as evidenced by the ongoing crisis in the Strait of Hormuz.

Dealing with Iran will be one of the most pressing concerns waiting on Wallace’s desk. A task however he should be well suited to. Wallace chaired the all-parliamentary group on Iran for 8 years from 2006 to 2014. This expertise will be key in navigating the country through the ever-intense flashpoint.

This stretch of the armed forces will continue if the country crashes out of the EU. Under ‘Operation Redfold’ the military will step in to help the government manage the fallout.

Wallace was a, EU Remainer and advocate against a no-deal Brexit, however, these stances may have fallen by the way-side. Boris Johnson stated that his cabinet must be prepared to accept a no-deal Brexit “come what may, do or die”. Wallace in the past said no-deal would leave the UK open to attack from terrorists, stepping into the job of Defence Secretary he will now find himself planning for something he warned against.

However, Wallace has also said that regardless of Brexit intelligence sharing with EU countries will remain the same, telling parliament: “Yes, I can reassure the House that intelligence sharing will go on unchanged.

“The relationship between intelligence services under national security, irrespective of our status within Europe, will not diminish, and the same goes for our status within the Five Eyes community—a strong partnership for intelligence.”

Wallace has consistently voted to authorise the use of the military abroad, agreeing to strikes against the so-called Islamic State and the continued deployment of British Forces in Afghanistan.

Wallace like Boris Johnson has also voted for the development of new nuclear weapons to replace Britain’s Trident continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. However, Wallace has voted to renew Trident, consistently supporting the maintenance of a UK nuclear arsenal.

In 2009, Wallace speaking in Westminster Hall said: “my understanding of Trident replacement is that it will still mean a reduction in the number of warheads, so it is a move in the right direction.

“Secondly, even if one were advocating the suspension of Trident replacement, that is not the same as advocating unilateral disarmament. I do not think that the gesture would work.”

Johnson promised more defence spending and expressed support for ending the prosecution of British Northern Ireland Veterans. It is now up to the MP for Wyre and Preston North to make this happen.