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Rishi Sunak talks up Ben Wallace as next Nato secretary general

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Rishi Sunak has talked up Ben Wallace in his effort to become the next Nato secretary general, after the defence secretary confirmed his interest in the job.

The prime minister praised Wallace as “widely respected” among his international counterparts when asked about his cabinet minister touting himself to succeed Jens Stoltenberg next year.

Wallace has long been tipped as a contender owing to his role in supporting Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, despite the secretary general job often going to more senior politicians such as former prime ministers.

The defence secretary has never previously said outright that he would like the job, but told the German news agency dpa on Thursday: “I’ve always said it would be a good job. That’s a job I’d like. But I’m also loving the job I do now.”

He said secretary general of the transatlantic alliance “is a fantastic job and Nato is an incredibly important part of all our securities”.

He added: “But it’s not for me to decide. It’s for all the other allies.”

Asked by ITV whether he would support Wallace, Sunak did not give his formal backing but said he knew the defence secretary was “widely respected by his peers for the role that he has played”.

He added: “He’s focused right now on supporting Ukraine. He’s doing a great job of that.”

Stoltenberg has led Nato for nearly a decade and will not seek another term.

The job is usually decided behind the scenes. The US has yet to indicate its preferred candidate but there have been reports that France would prefer someone from the EU. Some other possible contenders include Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister; Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister of Canada; and Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister.

If Wallace were to get the job, it would trigger a byelection in his seat of Wyre and Preston North. This would be a headache for Sunak but would probably be more than compensated for by the increase in the UK’s clout on the international stage.