MPs and military chiefs question ‘yes man’ Shapps as new defence secretary - UK politics live

Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the Armed Forces, says Shapps knows ‘very little’ about defence

Matt Mathers,Adam Forrest
Friday 01 September 2023 06:02 BST
Who is new defence secretary Grant Shapps?

Former military chiefs and opposition MPs have questioned the suitability of “yes man” Grant Shapps for his new role as defence secretary.

Mr Shapps, the former energy secretary, was Rishi Sunak’s surprise choice to replace Ben Wallace this morning as the prime minister carried out a mini cabinet reshuffle.

Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the Armed Forces, expressed his concern that Mr Shapps had been given the job to “support” Mr Sunak rather than “make the case” for defence budgets.

He also suggested it would take Mr Shapps “some time” to get up to speed with the defence brief, which he knows “very little” about.

Claire Coutinho, a former education minister, replaced Mr Shapps in a major promotion for the East Surrey MP. A close ally of Mr Sunak who previously worked as his adviser, the 38-year-old is the first MP from the 2019 intake to join cabinet.


Who is Claire Coutinho?

Claire Coutinho has been thrust into the spotlight after winning one of the top jobs in government – promoted to energy secretary after Grant Shapps departed to take up the defence secretary job.

It marks a major step up for the little-known Rishi Sunak ally, the “blue wall” moderate who has only been in parliament since 2019 and has held junior ministerial roles for less than a year.

Who is the new energy secretary? Adam Forrest takes a closer look:

Claire Coutinho – rising Tory star who is Sunak’s mirror image gets top job

38-year-old energy secretary is key ally of PM and worked with him at Treasury as aide

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 16:40

Exclusive: Government slammed for ‘outrageous’ U-turn on badger cull as fresh plans revealed

The government is set to backtrack on long-promised plans to stop culling badgers after 2025, as part of efforts to tackle tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.

Ministers had pledged to phase out the badger cull in two years’ time, instead focusing on vaccination of both badgers and cattle and tightening cattle biosecurity.

Last year was officially the final one in which four-year licences were issued.

But now environment chiefs are preparing to consult within weeks on fresh proposals to include killing the native mammals “on a targeted basis”, alongside other disease-control measures.

Jane Dalton reports:

Government slammed for ‘outrageous’ U-turn on badger cull as fresh plans revealed

Exclusive: Consultation to start within weeks after estimated half British population of protected species wiped out

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 16:20

Labour’s East Leicester branch suspended

Labour has reportedly suspended an entire constituency branch over concerns about how it is operating.

Leicester East has been suspended while party officials look into its practices and procedures, according to the BBC’s local democracy reporting service.

Branch and constituency meetings will be stopped “until further notice” and all officers have been "relieved of their positions and duties".

A Labour Party source said: “The NEC has a duty to safeguard the integrity of CLPs, to ensure that they are properly run in line with the party’s rules and procedures and can operate fully, inclusively and democratically.”

It was not clear if any specific incident had caused the suspension. Labour’s Leicester operation was in headlines earlier this year over the deselection of candidates ahead of May’s local elections.

Claudia Webbe, the Leicester East MP, was last year found guilty of harassment and expelled from the party.

Claudia Webbe (Aaron Chown/PA)

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 16:00

Shapps was not interested in ‘serious’ energy and climate policy - campaign group

Grant Shapps was more concerned about “playing childish politics on social media” than “serious” energy and climate policy, campaigners have claimed.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) said it was “good riddance” that Mr Shapps had left his post to become defence secretary.

Dave Timms, FOE head of political affairs, said: said in a statement: “Good riddance to Grant Shapps. He seemed to be more concerned with playing childish politics on social media than the serious policies needed to address the greatest challenge of our time.

“He has promoted new drilling for oil and gas against the advice of his own climate advisors, allowed speculation about whether vital deadlines for the transition to electric vehicles and heat pumps would be stuck to, and failed to invest in home insulation.

“The country needs a serious secretary of state that will step up to give the certainty and support that businesses and people need to invest in the changes that will cut both emissions and the cost of living.

“We hope Claire Coutinho will be that person.”

Grant Shapps has been appointed as the new defence secretary (Yui Mok/PA)

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 15:45

Shapps only there because he won’t ‘rock the boat’

Admiral Lord West – the former chief of UK naval staff – has said he fears Mr Sunak had put his “great mate” Mr Shapps in the job not to “rock the boat” in pre-election budgets, Adam Forrest reports.

The former defence minister told The Independent: “It’s a surprising appointment. He’s obviously great mates with Sunak. I fear he is putting him in so he will not create any waves by demanding extra money for defence, which is very much needed.

“|I think it was designed to get someone who won’t rock the boat or upset the apple cart, particularly with an election coming next year.”

Lord West added: “Will Grant Shapps fight that corner? I have my doubts about that. He doesn’t have a particularly brilliant background in defence. That’s my worry. He can talk the talk, but it’s important … he realises how bad our military has been hollowed out.”

Admiral Lord West, Labour peer and former head of the Royal Navy

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 15:35

I’ll reduce bills and build cleaner energy - Coutinho

New energy secretary Claire Coutinho has vowed to “reduce bills for families” and build cleaner power in the UK.

Ms Coutinho said she was “delighted” to take on her new job after replacing Grant Shapps in this morning’s mini cabinet reshuffle.

“I will work with the Prime Minister to safeguard our energy security, reduce bills for families, and build cleaner, cheaper, homegrown energy,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 15:25

Sixth energy secretary higlights ‘failures of Tory policy’ - Labour

The appointment of a sixth energy secretary since 2019 highlights the government’s “failure of policy”, a Labour front bencher has said.

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, congratulated Ms Coutinho on her new job but questioned whether the government can deliver the energy policy the country needs.

“I congratulate Claire Coutinho on her appointment as energy secretary,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“But it speaks volumes about the failures of Tory policy that we are now onto the 6th Secretary of State since 2019.

“Reshuffling of the deckchairs will not deliver the proper energy policy Britain needs.”

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 15:15

Pimlico Plummers founder suspended from X after posting ‘someone should kill’ Sadiq Khan

The founder of Pimlico Plummers has had his X account suspended after posting “someone should kill” London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Charlie Mullins made the comment during a conversation with another user on the social media platform as they criticised the expansion of Ulez.

Mr Mullins later apologised “unreservedly”, telling Talk TV his comments had gone “too far”.

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 14:57

Shapps will have to leave Tik Tok, says senior Tory

Tobias Ellwood predicted that new defence secretary Grant Shapps – a frequent user of social media app TikTok – will likely come out of his first Ministry of Defence briefing with fewer apps on his phone.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, he said: “He’ll be getting the mother of all briefings when he walks into the MoD. I suspect he might have his phone, not taken away from him, but certainly he’ll come out with less apps on his phone than when he walks in."

But the chair of the defence select committee – who stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity – backed Shapps to succeed. “He’s a very competent and capable minister. He understands the Whitehall machine. He’s actually one of the best communicators that is in the Cabinet at the moment.”

Conservative MP and chair of the defence select committee Tobias Ellwood (Dominic Lipinski/ PA)

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 14:46

Senior Tory urges Shapps to use ‘powers of persuasion’ with Treasury

Senior Tory MP Julian Lewis, former chair of the defence select committee, has encouraged Mr Shapps to push the Treasury for as much money as possible to reverse a relative decline in spending, Adam Forrest reports.

“Defence expenditure under successive governments decline in comparison with other priorities, he told The Independent. “The new defence secretary should use all his powers of persuasion to build on the foundations laid by Ben Wallace in light of the considerable threats we face.”

Fellow Tory MP Jason McCartney – who severed as a flight lieutenant in the RAF – backed Mr Shapps in the role. “I welcome Grant’s appointment as he pledged to continue the UK’s support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s barbaric invasion,” he told The Independent.

Mr McCartney said he had been “impressed by his knowledge and commitment to the Ukrainian people”, adding: “He’s a really good operator and a shrewd appointment.”

Tory MP Julian Lewis has warned against becoming dependent on ‘another unreliable and sometimes hostile regime’

Matt Mathers31 August 2023 14:25

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