02 Nov 17. As I suspect the vast majority of others had been last evening when they heard news that the Rt. Hon Sir Michael Fallon had resigned as Secretary of State for Defence, I too was very surprised. And yet, having listened to one or two of the more surprising remarks made by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons, particular in front of the Defence Select Committee last week, I had been expressing personal views to several close colleagues over the past few days suggesting a belief that we might be about to see a change at the top of the MOD.
Later this morning we should know who the next Secretary of State for Defence will be. Experienced I hope and someone who not only has more than just an understanding and belief in strong defence but someone who can be respected by our own military and those of our NATO allies. Never was credibility in such a senior position more required and I sincerely hope that the choice the Prime Minister makes will be a promotion into the Cabinet of an existing minster of state rather than merely reshuffling one of the current members of Cabinet into the role. I certainly know who I would choose as the next Secretary of State for Defence, a person who in my opinion would bring the wealth and depth of experience that UK defence and security needs together with the necessary integrity, honesty and trust that we are crying out for in defence. That would be Philip Dunne MP.
Whoever is chosen must be able to both listen and recognise the importance not only of the military that he represents but also that of the UK defence industry, understanding it, building damaged relations and of course, in ensuring, protecting and growing sovereign capability. He or she must also understand in my view that our US allies, those who we place so much trust as they do in us and who provide us with so much support and equipment that we are in no position to manufacture ourselves, are not further let down.
Right now I sense that the trust and relationship between the UK and US is not nearly as strong as it was or that needs to be. The US is bound to look on the probability of further defence cuts emerging in the UK, a matter that with ‘refresh’ review process for defence occupying a significant amount of time in the MOD together with the separate ‘National Security’ ‘refresh’ being conducted by the Cabinet Office and that, due to defence being the largest of the twelve strands of that particular review process, will also have a huge bearing on future defence strategy and policy, with more than a degree of disdain.
The new Secretary of State for Defence will certainly be thrown in at the deep end and with various NATO related bilateral discussions due to take place over the next couple of weeks and the US Secretary of State for Defence, General Mattis due in London next week he or she will have their work cut out. Whether or not the new Secretary of State decides to defer the defence review process until they have a better understanding of bot requirement and consequences will be dependent on the choice that Theresa May will make. Even though it may not have anywhere near the largest budget, Defence and Security should always be the number one priority of government. Whilst I commend many aspects of the work of the previous Secretary of State for Defence what we need now more than ever before, as I said in UK Defence 290, is honesty and integrity.
Whilst it is true that I have had differences of opinion with the outgoing Secretary of State for Defence, these particularly in matters relating to capability and capacity shortfalls and both the manner and circumstance of the most recent past defence review for which he was responsible, the over ambition, the promise of delivering more whilst failing to properly fund it and of various aspects of planned defence procurement and cuts, the single most important aspect that I will attribute to Sir Michael Fallon is that in respect of operational defence strategy, policy and importantly, diplomacy, Sir Michael has not only been a safe pair of hands in the tiller but also someone who has rightly been respected by his NATO peers and allies.
I have no intention of commenting on the reason behind Sir Michael’s decision to resign other than to say that, as the person reported to have been the recipient of ‘gestures’ some fifteen years ago has herself publically said, that single event alone should not have been a resignation issue. However, in the age we live in there can be little doubt that it would have blighted the personality of the man himself in the years ahead. The truth is that in respect of the armed forces his morale authority to be head of the armed forces had been challenged and he had to go. His resignation letter to the Prime Minister was succinct and very much to the point but for all that, I believe that he is to be admired for the stance he has chosen to take and in the professional manner of his departure.
I had suspected that, in a forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle that many of us had been anticipating, that if Mrs. May was brave enough to rid herself of her troublesome Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson that the position would have been offered to Sir Michael Fallon. Forget that now. For the Prime Minister herself, I can only imagine that the loss of Sir Michael Fallon will be felt very deeply in that at a stroke it removes her single most important and reliable ally. She as Prime Minister presiding over a split Cabinet will be the weaker for his departure.
Back to the who Mrs. May might choose to replace Sir Michael as the next Secretary of State for Defence later this morning, I do not believe it will be one of the existing defence team or a complete unknown in respect of defence. My hope is that she might have discussed a potential successor with the outgoing Secretary of State and that if so, he might just have advised the choice of Philip Dunne, the current Minister of State at the Department of Health. That would certainly be my choice as well and I think also, the choice of our military, our NATO allies, of our defence industry and of our defence export customers. There could in my view be no better choice than the Member for Ludlow.
CHW (London – 2nd November 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785