Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, will have choked on his lunch today upon hearing that the leadership hopeful and former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, referred to the government’s pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP as ‘”an arbitrary” number, as opposed to the firm commitment Boris gave at the recent NATO summit.
One-time Tory party darling – he came out top of a members poll last week – Wallace is now one of the king-makers-in-chief in this contest. He will now either have to swallow his pride and bend his knee to Sunak – which is unlikely considering the two have already crossed swords over defence spending. Only a couple of months ago, Sunak did not reply to a letter written by Wallace asking for an increase in spending in line with the UK’s NATO commitments.
All eyes are now on the man in the bunker to see which of the eight candidates now through to the next round he will endorse. Will it be Penny Mordaunt, herself a former defence secretary and Royal Naval reservist, with whom he is said to get on with well? Or will it be the latest star, Kemi Badenoch, who launched her campaign today promising to cut down on wasteful government spending and lower taxes. Or none of the above. Westminster’s phone lines will be running hot tonight, that’s for sure.