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."

More Nick Ferrari

See more More Nick Ferrari

Dame Esther Rantzen has told LBC why she is campaigning to change the law on assisted dying

‘Dogs get treated better than humans’, Esther Rantzen says, as TV legend demands assisted dying law change

Rishi Sunak (l) puts on a brave face to the Tories by-election defeats on a visit to Harlow. New Kingswood MP Damien Egan (top r) and Wellingborough MP Gem Kitchen (bottom r)

Rishi Sunak begs frustrated Tories 'not to put Starmer in power' after party suffers double by-election disaster

New Labour MPs Damien Egan and Gen Kitchen

'They are not very good results': Tory chairman admits after double by-election drubbings as MPs call for tax cuts

The peer was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast

'It was known yesterday' Azhar Ali had made more Israel conspiracy theory comments, peer tells LBC

Scammers should be treated like violent criminals, a senior anti-fraud officer has said.

Scammers should be treated like violent criminals, senior anti-fraud officer tells LBC

The vessel is due to lead the largest Nato exercise since the Cold War, involving more than 40 vessels, after its sister ship was forced to cancel its deployment because of an 'issue' with its propeller shaft.

HMS Prince of Wales docked while it should be 'defending our interests abroad', Minister brands it 'not acceptable'

Lord Rose took aim at government quangos in the wake of the Post Office scandal

'They grow like multi-headed hydras': Asda chairman takes aim at government quangos after Post Office scandal

Lord Stuart Rose speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari

Police 'not picking up the phone' to attend shoplifting 'endemic', Lord Stuart Rose tells LBC

Dentists who set up practice in areas of England with poor access to NHS care will be offered a £20,000 bonus

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins stumped on exact figure for new dentists as ministers plan £20,000 ‘golden hello’

When asked by Nick to sum up the Government in one word, Ms Keegan said: "Delivering."

Gillian Keegan rates the Government using Ofsted descriptions - and it's not 'Outstanding'

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan tells LBC she is ‘very, very confident’ of 15 hours of free childcare by April

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan tells LBC she is ‘very, very confident’ of 15 hours of free childcare by April

'Fairer' social housing reforms will ensure system used 'in the right way' by those who 'play by the rules', the Housing Minister told LBC

'Fairer' social housing reforms will ensure system used 'in the right way' by those who 'play by the rules'

Iceland CEO on his support for Labour after defecting from the Tories.

'The Tories have failed the nation': Iceland CEO and former Tory donor throws support behind Labour

The policing minister has said first-time offenders for knife crime will not be jailed.

No plans to jail first-time knife offenders despite desperate pleas of Nottingham attack victim's family

US voters can do better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden

'Two old men fighting over a Zimmer frame': US can do better than Trump or Biden as president, says Jon Sopel

Nick Ferrari says bosses need to 'get a grip' and start justifying their huge pay packets with services that actually work

Firms led by overpaid bosses need a ‘reality check’ - let's get people back to the office, says Nick Ferrari