Ben Wallace reveals coming retirement and backpedals Ukraine ‘gratitude’ remarks | Ben Wallace

Ben Wallace is to leave government at the next cabinet reshuffle after four years as defence secretary and will not stand in the general election.

Wallace, who has played a key role in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and was a close ally of Boris Johnson, told the Sunday Times he was “not standing next time” but he ruled out leaving parliament “prematurely” and forcing another byelection on Rishi Sunak, of whom he remains supportive.

As the news of his retirement came to light, Wallace attempted to row back his comments last week that Ukraine needed to show gratitude to its western backers in the war. “Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude,” Wallace said at the Nato summit in Vilnius. “I told them that last year, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list, that I’m not like Amazon.”

On Saturday night Wallace tweeted a lengthy thread in Ukrainian. “My comments about how best to support Ukraine caused a lot of interest and were somewhat misrepresented.

“For the record, as someone who has been at the forefront of mobilising support for Ukraine, I have discussed the challenges that may arise as we work towards the common goal of helping Ukraine get what it needs to defeat this illegal invasion. I said that Ukraine sometimes needs to realise that in many countries and in some parliaments there is not such strong support as in Great Britain.”

He said his remark was not a comment about governments, but “more about citizens and members of parliaments”.

“We are fortunate that the citizens of the United Kingdom and all parties in our parliament support our efforts to provide Ukraine with the necessary means,” he said.

“Our approval ratings for supporting Ukraine are among the highest in Europe – over 70%. My comments were meant to reflect that it is important to remember not to talk to yourself, but to make an effort to reach out to other citizens who still need to be convinced.”

“The comments about Amazon were made last year to emphasise that Britain’s relationship with Ukraine is not ‘transactional’ but more ‘partnership’.

“I will personally continue to support Ukraine on its path for as long as it takes, but national parliaments often have competing needs and Ukraine and the UK must continue to encourage this strong support, with facts and friendship.”

Wallace’s departure from parliament is not related to the Conservative party’s current challenges, according to multiple reports.

“I went into politics in the Scottish parliament in 1999,” Wallace told the Sunday Times. “That’s 24 years. I’ve spent well over seven years with three phones by my bed.”

Wallace had expressed an interest in standing for the role of Nato secretary general before it was announced the current chief, Jens Stoltenberg, had been given another year in charge.

The minister told the Economist there were a “lot of unresolved issues” in the military alliance and his getting the job was “not going to happen”. He later downplayed the prospect of a future bid to run the organisation.

Last week, the prime minister shut down the comments from Wallace in which he suggested Ukraine should show “gratitude” for the military support it had been given.

Wallace had made the remark after the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said it was “absurd” for Nato to insist there were still conditions for Ukraine to meet before it can gain membership once the war with Russia is over.

Zelenskiy later said: “I believe that we were always grateful to United Kingdom. I don’t know what he meant and how else we should be grateful.”

Popular within the Tory party, Wallace is the longest continuously serving minister in government, having been security minister under Theresa May before being promoted to defence secretary by Johnson and continuing the role under his two successors.

He was previously appointed as a whip in 2014 and a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office in 2015 while David Cameron was prime minister.

The Wyre and Preston North MP ruled himself out of the running for the Conservative leadership last year, despite being an early frontrunner in the race to replace Mr Johnson.


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