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Tobias Ellwood Says Boris Johnson Has “More Chance Of Becoming A Bond Villain” Than NATO Chief

Boris Johnson has been tipped to take over as Nato general secretary once he steps down as Prime Minister (Alamy)

5 min read

Defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood has dismissed reports that Boris Johnson could become the Nato chief once he steps down as Prime Minister.

According to the Telegraph, Johnson has been touted by a number of Tory MPs to be the next Nato general secretary, with Jens Stoltenberg widely expected to stand down in September next year.

But Ellwood, who has been fiercely critical of Johnson, and recently had the Tory whip removed as punishment for not supporting the government in a confidence motion, believed that the outgoing prime minister would "never" hold the position. 

“There's more chance of him being a Bond villain than then being head of Nato," he told PoliticsHome

“I would absolutely endorse Ben Wallace if he were to consider that as a potential possibility. He's got a lot of support from across Europe," he added. 

The Defence Secretary has won plaudits for how the UK has responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ellwood spoke to PoliticsHome ahead of the defence select committee's publication of a report into the government’s integrated defence review. The former soldier said whoever replaces Johnson as prime minister when the Tory leadership contest concludes on 5 September needs to look again at the country’s military budget.

The report by the cross-party group of MPs said last autumn’s integrated review “identified and understood the implications of the range of complex and cascading threats faced by the UK”, but the impact of both the Afghan withdrawal and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are being “seemingly dismissed as insignificant”, and that “UK Defence thus appears as arrogant and unwilling to learn lessons”.

It adds that “events of the last year have demonstrated that the government was unprepared for, and in the case of Afghanistan, failed to appropriately respond to international crises”, and calls for planned cuts to troop numbers to be reversed.

The new Chief of the General Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, has described reducing the army by 10,000 troops as “perverse”. Wallace told Sky News on Thursday that the next prime minister should commit billions more to the military and reverse cuts.

Ellwood praised the Defence Secretary for confirming publicly that funding must increase, and said he has done a “fantastic job” in recent months.

While he did not call for either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss to retain Wallace as defence secretary when either assembles their cabinet as prime minister, he suggested that "from a Ukrainian perspective, they would appreciate some continuity”.

Ellwood was a defence minister in Theresa May’s government, but now sits as an independent MP after Johnson withdrew the Conservative whip from him last week for missing the vote of confidence in the government in the Commons.

He was in eastern Europe for a series of meetings in his role as committee chair, including in Ukraine on how to re-open the port of Odesa to help grain exports recommence.The Bournemouth MP said the re-opening of the port would help ease the cost of living in the UK, arguing that defence spending is not just about arming the military but also has wider benefits to the economy.

“If we want to play this role on the international stage we need the necessary defence posture to do that convincingly, and also recognise that there is a direct connection between our economy and our security,” he said.

He believed that solving the Ukraine crisis faster will impact on oil and gas prices, as well as food security.

“It's all interconnected now, it’s not separated. That's why investing in our defence is so important,” Ellwood said. 

The report also highlights the deficiencies in the UK’s defence capability by focusing on hybrid and cyber warfare when the “old threats” have not gone away.

“You can't stabilise a nation, you can't help train a nation, with droids and with drones or UAVs,” Ellwood explained.

“You need Armed Forces personnel, you need to be able to hold ground with conventional equipment, with tanks, you can't do this if you just focus entirely on a modern, digital landscape.”

A defence source told PoliticsHome that although they accepted the military’s approach must be “threat-led”, they believed some of Ellwood’s comments are “inconsistent and do not reflect the work we are currently undertaking to keep our nation safe”.Six months into the Ukraine crisis, the British military is “burning through ammunition and equipment” being donated to Kyiv, Ellwood said, with the problem that there are not the plans in place to replace it quickly enough.

The report warns of “the likelihood of a capability gap” and “a danger of overstretch”, while claiming the MOD has an “abysmal” track record on procurement.

Ellwood said if the UK was to get involved in a battle with Russia and we spent our ammunition as fast as the Ukrainians have, “we would last two weeks before we ran out”.

“On the international stage I want Britain to step forward, and we can only do so if we have the necessary defence posture, the hard power to allow us to act as leaders,” he added. 

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The Command Paper and Integrated Review put a threat-led approach firmly at the heart of the Ministry of Defence’s work.

"We are delivering our vision to support and equip our Armed Forces, including the need to invest for the long term in vital capabilities such as future fighter jets, nuclear submarines and more advanced tanks. This is bolstered by the £24bn settlement over four years.

“We are proud of our personnel and the work they do across the world, including the withdrawal from Afghanistan and our ongoing support for Ukraine.

“We are acutely aware that our nation’s resilience is crucial and we will continue to adapt our strategy and response to meet emerging threats and challenges.”

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