Who will the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace endorse for the leadership of the Conservative party? Having decided not to stand on grounds of family and wanting a normal life at some point post-politics, he is keeping his counsel and will, say allies, see what the assorted candidates have to say about the economy and defence before deciding what to do.

Wallace is a favourite of Tory activists and members, thanks to his conduct on the Ukraine crisis. What he concludes about any of the candidates, and their ability or otherwise to keep the country safe, could have a significant impact on the contest.

Here, Rishi Sunak has a potentially big Ben Wallace problem.

Relations between the pair are as icy as the Eastern Front in Russia during the winter of 1941-42. Why? With the Ukraine conflict getting underway earlier this year, the Defence Secretary wrote the then Chancellor a letter warning him inflation and stresses on the MoD budget would mean Britain will struggle to meet its commitments. 

Astonishingly, Wallace did not receive a reply from the Chancellor to that letter.
The Treasury even tried, via Number 10, to get Wallace to withdraw the letter. The Defence Secretary refused.

There was an account of this extraordinary standoff published in the Sun in May. MoD officials were “flabbergasted” that Treasury officials were forbidden – on whose orders? – from engaging with their MoD counterparts on the issue of the letter and Wallace’s concerns.

All this took place during an actual war in Europe, with NATO tooling up and nations scrambling to strengthen their defences.

The Treasury points to existing increases in the defence budget and says the MoD always wants more. Sunak may try to blame the letter standoff on him having been diverted dealing with the chaos of serving in Boris Johnson’s administration.

Still, Wallace allies say it is very odd behaviour by a Chancellor, to refuse to answer a letter from the Defence Secretary on such matters in a time of war. Ordinarily, a one on one discussion over dinner to explore a compromise might have been in order. Not the insult of a Whitehall campaign to get the letter withdrawn.

Will Wallace intervene in the campaign? It is unclear at this stage.

This being politics there is always, of course, another possibility. Perhaps Sunak will offer Wallace a deal, of sufficient resources to bolster the Army, Royal Navy and RAF, and stress that he is committed to continuing the Johnson/Wallace policy on Ukraine.

Of late, Sunak ally Dominic Cummings has been calling Wallace rude names on social media. Cummings is absolutely terrified of the possibility of nuclear war. He seeks maximum de-escalation of the Russia conflict and a less aggressive UK government stance.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is bouncing off the walls and determined to do everything he can to stop Sunak, the front-runner. The outgoing PM has sworn (a lot) to destroy the former Chancellor who he blames, in part, for his downfall.

In doing so, Johnson may raise questions about whether Sunak is as robust on the defence of the West as Johnson, and his old friend Wallace.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.