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Grant Shapps has held seven cabinet posts since becoming an MP in 2005
By Chris Mason & Sam Francis
BBC News

Rishi Sunak has promoted cabinet veteran Grant Shapps to the role of defence secretary in a mini reshuffle of his top team.

Mr Shapps, who had not been widely predicted for the role, has held five ministerial jobs in the past year.

But he is seen as safe pair of hands and an effective communicator.

Rising star and close Sunak ally Claire Coutinho replaces Mr Shapps as energy security and net zero secretary.

Ms Coutinho has only been an MP since 2019 and, at 38, is the youngest minister to sit around the cabinet table.

She is seen by colleagues as bright and competent – but she faces a tough task in holding the differing wings of her party together over the government’s commitment to net zero.

Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said her appointment “speaks volumes about the failures of Tory policy that we are now onto the sixth secretary of state since 2019”.

“Reshuffling of the deckchairs will not deliver the proper energy policy Britain needs,” he added.

Some Tory MPs had expected Mr Sunak to carry out a more wide-ranging reshuffle, ahead of next month’s Conservative Party conference and the King’s Speech, setting out the government’s priorities.

But the prime minister, who had to replace Ben Wallace, who is leaving politics at the next election, has opted to play it safe for now.

Some expect a wider reshuffle before the next general election, although some Tories fear the PM may run out of time.

In his first statement as defence secretary, Mr Shapps said was “honoured” to take on the role and pledged to “continue to UK’s support for Ukraine”.

Mr Shapps paid tribute to the “enormous contribution Mr Wallace has made to UK defence and global security over the last four years”.

“I am looking forward to working with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who defend our nation’s security,” he added.

Mr Shapps has held seven cabinet roles since 2012.

Last October, he spent six days as home secretary during the final chaotic week of Liz Truss, following the resignation of Suella Braverman from that role.

He was then appointed business secretary by Mr Sunak, when he became prime minister after Ms Truss.

Mr Shapps’s longest stint in government has been as transport secretary where he negotiated repeated bailouts for Transport for London during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Shapps has taken a visible role in the UK’s support of the country.

He took part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, hosting a family of refugees at his Hertfordshire home.

Mr Shapps visited Ukraine last week, in his previous role as energy secretary, to highlight the UK government’s role in guaranteeing a supply of enriched uranium to the country’s nuclear power plants.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey congratulated Mr Shapps on his appointment.

He said he would work with his opposite number “to keep our country safe” – but added that “after 13 years of Tory defence failures, a change at the top will not change this record”.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Richard Foord said Mr Sunak had appointed a “yes man”, who will be in charge of “slashing troop numbers by 10,000”.

“They have taken the armed forces for granted for too long, and we are all left less safe as a result,” Mr Foord said.

Ms Coutinho will be the youngest minister around the Cabinet table

David Johnston, a Tory backbencher, takes over Ms Coutinho’s role as children’s minister at the Department for Education.

Mr Wallace, who served as defence secretary under three prime minister, said he was stepping down “to invest in the parts of life that I have neglected, and to explore new opportunities”.

In his resignation letter, Mr Wallace said his military and political careers has come at “a personal toll to me and my family”.

Mr Wallace leaves parliament as one of the longest serving ministers in government.

As defence secretary he oversaw the evacuation of personnel from Afghanistan as well as the UK’s military contribution to the Ukraine War.

He also called for an increase in forces funding claiming the British army had been “hollowed out” over 30 years.

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