Ben Wallace also has an Iran-shaped problem in his Defence in-tray. One of the complaints about the British government’s handling of the tanker crisis is that the Navy’s capacity is too thin. It is a long-established complaint from defence chiefs that there isn’t enough money for the Armed Forces, and they are now expecting Johnson to show his true blue Tory credentials by turning on the spending taps.
Jeremy Hunt pledged during the leadership contest to double defence spending, and there has been a regular drumbeat from Tory backbenchers on the need to push spending up. The Joint Committee on the National Security has warned that ‘the cornerstones of UK national security are being undermined’ and that the Nato target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence might not be enough.
The trouble with defence spending is that turning the taps on doesn’t immediately lead to a visible boost in the capacity of the Armed Forces. It takes a long time to build defence assets, and there will be further pressure on the defence budget as a result of an impending delay in the submarine-building programme, which the Ministry of Defence has yet to acknowledge publicly. Delays never lead to a government saving money.
Then there’s the matter of a no-deal Brexit, with the military committed under Operation Redfold to helping government departments if necessary if Britain’s exit does turn out to be chaotic.
And Wallace will also have to implement Johnson’s pledge to protect military veterans from prosecutions, something Tory MPs have become increasingly agitated about following the decision to charge Soldier F in relation to the killing of two protesters on Bloody Sunday. This is a highly emotional issue for Conservative MPs, who will expect swift action.