The British government said on Thursday that it would replace its outgoing defense secretary, Ben Wallace, a former soldier who was respected in the White House and Pentagon and came to symbolize Britain’s steadfast support for Ukraine in the war against Russia.
His replacement, Grant Shapps, a politically astute Conservative Party operative, has signaled that he would maintain Britain’s support for Ukraine. Mr. Shapps has held multiple cabinet posts and is a close ally of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, though he has far less foreign policy and security experience than Mr. Wallace.
Mr. Wallace’s departure has been long in the works — he was floated by Downing Street in an unsuccessful bid for NATO secretary general — but Mr. Shapps’ appointment was a surprise. His name was not on most short lists of candidates for the post, which has become particularly high profile since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.
Mr. Shapps has already held no fewer than four ministerial posts in the past year, a tumultuous stretch for Britain’s government. Mr. Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, named him home secretary in the chaotic final days of her tenure. He had earlier served as transport secretary under Ms. Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, where he developed a reputation as an adroit spokesman for the government during tense moments.
Support for Ukraine has remained strong across the political spectrum in Britain, although there was occasionally tension between Mr. Wallace and the Treasury over his demands for bigger increases in the defense budget.
In his letter of resignation to Mr. Sunak, Mr. Wallace said, “I know you agree with me that we must not return to the days where defense was viewed as a discretionary spend by government and savings were achieved by hollowing out.” He added, “We both share the belief that now is the time to invest.”
Mr. Wallace, who was a captain in the Scots Guards, had hoped to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as secretary general of NATO. But despite his good reputation in Washington, his candidacy did not win the backing of the United States.
Mr. Shapps recently visited Ukraine in his capacity as energy secretary, announcing a British government loan to the country’s state nuclear energy company.
“I am looking forward to working with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who defend our nation’s security,” Mr. Shapps said in a post on X, formally known as Twitter. “And continuing the U.K.’s support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s barbaric invasion.”