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Rishi Sunak is to appoint a new defense secretary after Ben Wallace announced he would step down soon after four years in the post and will not contest general elections due next year.
He said he had decided to leave government in Rishi Sunak’s next cabinet reshuffle, due in the coming weeks, and would leave Westminster at the next election.
Wallace served as defense secretary under three prime ministers and was previously touted as a future leader of the Conservative Party in part because of his popularity among Tory activists.
Wallace’s potential successors as defense secretary include chief treasury secretary John Glen and security minister Tom Tugendhat, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
The post is an important ministerial job, in part because of the UK’s leading role in supporting Western efforts to help Ukraine after Russia’s large-scale invasion of the country.
Wallace was widely expected to quit British politics after making clear his interest in becoming the next secretary general of NATO, the military alliance – but he was thwarted after US President Joe Biden refused to support his candidacy.
Wallace told the Sunday Times he supported Sunak’s efforts to bring high inflation under control, but suggested he would have to do a lot more to win the next election, saying it would take “a time when the prime minister bets on the reasonable stability of the economy and then uses that to explain to the public the vision of 2024”.
Labor enjoys a big lead in opinion polls over the Tories and more than 40 Tory MPs have announced they will step down in the election.
Wallace said his decision to step down as an MP was unrelated to his constituency of Wyre and Preston North being scrapped as part of an electoral boundary reshuffle.
A week ago, people close to Wallace told the Financial Times he had no plans to quit politics, saying the speculation was “rubbish”.
The 53-year-old former captain of the Scots Guards was first elected as an MP in 2005, and before that he spent four years as a member of the Scottish Parliament.
Wallace is a close ally of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After Johnson quit Downing Street last year, Wallace surprised some colleagues by stepping down from the contest to succeed him.
Wallace is the most popular member of Sunak’s cabinet with conservative members, according to Conservativehome, the party-focused website.
Wallace said his greatest pride as Defense Secretary was ending a long period of cuts to the Defense Ministry, unlocking “genuine new money” and convincing Downing Street that defense was “essential”.
He warned Britain could find itself in conflict by 2030, most likely with Russia. “Towards the end of the decade the world will be much more dangerous, more precarious,” he told The Sunday Times. “I think we are going to end up in a conflict. Whether it is a cold or a hot conflict, I think we will be in a difficult position.
Wallace played down the idea that he would take a job in the defense industry, saying he could try something new.
“I think sometimes I would just like to go do things that I love, like Formula 1 or horse racing – do something completely different,” he added.