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Defence Secretary accused of 'disdain' after war of words with Johnny Mercer on defence spending

23 February 2023, 10:13 | Updated: 23 February 2023, 12:07

Ben Wallace rejects claims made by Johnny Mercer about defence spending

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Minister's wife accused Defence Secretary of 'disdain' amid a war of words over the armed forces budget.

The jibe comes after Ben Wallace dismissed criticism from veterans' minister Johnny Mercer about his efforts to secure more funding for the military.

The public row saw Mr Mercer's wife accuse the Defence Secretary of treating her husband with "disdain".

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer sprang to her husband's defence, tweeting: "Wow. The disdain from Ben Wallace for Johnny Mercer and his office for veterans affairs really is something else.

"You may start to realise why care for veterans is such a daily battle."

Mr Wallace said Mr Mercer was a "junior minister" who "luckily doesn't have to run a budget" as he contrasted their level of Government responsibilities.

Mr Mercer has claimed it was "not credible" for Mr Wallace to say Britain's armed forces had been "hollowed out".

But the Defence Secretary told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "Johnny is a junior minister, and Johnny luckily doesn't have to run the budget.

"You know, I have a defence budget that has to deal, like all the other budgets, with inflation, with changes to threat, and I have to just deal with that. And that's my job."

Asked if Mr Mercer, whose role as minister of state for veterans' affairs is within the Cabinet Office rather than the Ministry of Defence, was being naive, Mr Wallace said: "No, no, no. I just think, you know, his experience is not... he's not the Secretary of State."

He added that as Defence Secretary "I run a department of 224,000 people", while "he's got 12 people in the office".

Nick Ferrari exclusively interviews Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

During a debate last month in the Commons, Mr Wallace said he was "happy to say that we have been hollowed out and underfunded".

Only days later, he told a joint UK-Australia press conference in Portsmouth that a "growing proportion" of Government spending would need to go towards keeping the country safe, in a message that was read as being directed at Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Budget.

It comes against a backdrop of UK efforts to support Ukraine in pushing back invading Russian troops and rising global tensions with China.

On Wednesday, Mr Mercer told Nick Ferrari: "Ben is engaged in a lobbying effort for his department, as you would expect him to be.

"The facts are that when I came into politics, defence spending was around £38 billion per year - it is just shy of £50 billion a year now.

"It is obviously not credible to say that the money has been taken out of defence."

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