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Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a new defence secretary to replace Ben Wallace on Thursday, according to government insiders.
Grant Shapps, the energy security secretary, is a surprise frontrunner for the role, according to people familiar with the matter.
He visited Ukraine last week, posting a video of his visit on the social media site X. “What I saw in Kyiv this week was a people resolute in their defiance against Putin’s tyranny and Russia’s aggression,” he wrote.
However, government insiders cautioned that while Shapps was considered a favourite for the role, it was not yet certain that he would be appointed.
A host of other names have been tipped by Tory colleagues for the defence secretary role in recent weeks, including Sunak ally John Glen, the chief secretary to the Treasury who represents a military seat, and Jeremy Quin, the Cabinet Office minister who previously served as defence procurement minister.
James Heappey, the armed forces minister, Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Foreign Office minister, have also been touted as leading candidates by Conservative figures.
If Shapps were selected to take the helm at the Ministry of Defence, it would be his fifth cabinet job in the past year, following stints as transport secretary, home secretary and business secretary, before becoming energy security and net zero secretary in February.
Speculation has arisen in the past week that Sunak is poised to make only limited changes to his cabinet ahead of MPs’ return to parliament from their summer recess on Monday. A broader shake-up of his top team could take place later this year, according to media reports.
The cabinet job of defence secretary is particularly important on account of the UK’s position as one of the leading nations involved in the western coalition backing Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Wallace announced in July that he wanted to step down from the role after four years in the post, and that he also planned to step down as an MP at the general election, expected next year.
Popular in surveys of Tory activists, which fuelled speculation at one time that he could become leader of the party, he served as defence secretary under three prime ministers.
Earlier this year Wallace expressed interest in becoming the next secretary-general of Nato but his ambitions were quashed by US president Joe Biden’s refusal to back his candidacy.
Downing Street declined to comment on reshuffle speculation.