Robert Ben Lobban Wallace (born 15 May 1970) is a British politician serving as Secretary of State for Defence since 24 July 2019. He was previously the UK's longest-serving Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime from 2016 to 2019. A member of the Conservative Party, he has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Wyre and Preston North, formerly Lancaster and Wyre, since 2005.
Wallace previously served as a captain in the Scots Guards regiment of the British Army. He was a Conservative list Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland from 1999 to 2003. He stood down in 2003 and moved to Lancashire as he sought selection for a Westminster constituency in England.
Wallace served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Justice Secretary, and later Minister without Portfolio, Ken Clarke from 2010 to 2014. Wallace was a whip from July 2014 to May 2015. He served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland Office under David Cameron from 2015 to 2016. He served under Prime Minister Theresa May as Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime at the Home Office from 2016 to 2019. A supporter of Boris Johnson's leadership bid, Johnson appointed Wallace as Secretary of State for Defence after he was appointed Prime Minister.
Early life and career
Wallace was born on 15 May 1970 in Farnborough, London, England. He attended the independent school, Millfield in Somerset. After school, Wallace became a ski instructor with the Austrian National Ski School in the village of Alpbach in Austria.
Wallace attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, before he was commissioned in 1991 into the Scots Guards. From 1991 to 1998, he served in Germany, Cyprus, Belize, and Northern Ireland, rising to the rank of captain. During his time in Northern Ireland, he was mentioned in dispatches in 1992 for an incident in which the patrol he was commanding captured an entire IRA active service unit attempting to carry out a bomb attack against British troops.
After leaving the Army, Wallace decided to enter politics in part because of the experience he had commanding men from some of the UK's most economically deprived areas which he believed could be improved by promoting a more aspirational society. Wallace became a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, as a list MSP for North East Scotland. He stood down in 2003, as he sought selection for a Westminster constituency in England. Wallace was the Scottish Conservatives' shadow health spokesman during that time.
From 2003 to 2005 he was overseas director of the aerospace company QinetiQ, the UK's former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).
Member of UK Parliament
Wallace was elected as MP for the Lancaster and Wyre constituency in the 2005 general election. He won 22,266 votes with a majority of 4,171 (8.0%). The seat had previously been held by the Labour Party's Hilton Dawson. The constituency was abolished in 2010 and in the 2010 general election he was elected as MP in the new seat of Wyre and Preston North with 26,877 votes and a majority of 15,844 (30.9%). Wallace was re-elected at the 2015, 2017 and 2019 general elections.
From 2005 to 2010 Wallace was a member of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. From 2006 to 2010 Wallace was the Shadow Minister of State for Scotland. He was Chairman of the British–Iran Parliamentary Group from 2006 to 2014. On 13 November 2008, Wallace was awarded Campaigner of the Year in the Spectator/Threadneedle Parliamentarian awards, for his work promoting transparency of MPs expenses.
Wallace faced criticism locally after it was revealed he had the fourth highest expenses claim of any MP in the UK in 2008, claiming £175,523 on top of his £63,000 salary. However, he defended the costs by arguing that the constituency has an electorate that is nearly 20% larger than the average one in England.
Junior ministerial roles
Following his re-election to Parliament in 2010, Wallace was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then-Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, and later Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet Office, Ken Clarke MP. On 4 September 2012, Wallace turned down a position as a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury during the cabinet reshuffle to remain Clarke's PPS. He voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
In July 2014, as Clarke returned to the back benches, Wallace was again offered a job in Government as a whip. This time he accepted. In May 2015 he was promoted to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office.
After the EU referendum, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, promoted him to Minister of State for Security in the Home Office. In December 2017 the Ministerial portfolio was extended to include Economic Crime. He was the Security Minister during the terror attacks of 2017 and the Salisbury attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal. Wallace was appointed to the Privy Council for his role in coordinating the government response to the 2017 Westminster attack.
Wallace supported the UK remaining within the European Union (EU) prior to the 2016 referendum. He voted for then Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement in early 2019, and voted against any referendum on a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
In February 2018, Wallace was criticised by political opponents for promoting unfounded smears on the leader of the Labour Party. The Sun newspaper had alleged that during the 1980s Jeremy Corbyn had colluded with a Communist spy. In response to the allegations, a spokesman for Corbyn stated that any suggestion that the Labour leader had been an agent, asset or informer was "an entirely false and a ridiculous smear". Amidst these allegations, Wallace was criticised for tweeting: "'Jeremy has been interested in foreign policy issues his entire political career' [sic] – Labour MP Louise Haigh, BBC Daily Politics – yup so was Kim Philby". Wallace later defended his tweet, and said he "wasn't comparing, just saying that being interested in foreign policy isn't an answer to the allegations being made". Wallace told Sky News: "It was a light-hearted dig at Louise Haigh's excuse that Corbyn was interested in foreign affairs ... I was simply saying Kim Philby was also interested in foreign affairs".
Secretary of State for Defence
On 24 July 2019, Wallace was appointed Secretary of State for Defence by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, succeeding Penny Mordaunt. In August 2019, he was overheard discussing Prime Minister Johnson's controversial prorogation with Florence Parly, the French Minister of Armies. Wallace suggested that the reason for the prorogation of parliament for five weeks was to prevent MPs from blocking the government's Brexit plans rather than the government's official position that it was to introduce new legislative agenda. The government responded to his comments by stating he had "misspoken". This prorogation was later deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court on 24 September 2019.
On 13 October 2019, Wallace defended Turkey's offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces in north-eastern Syria in a NATO meeting. He commented, "Turkey needs to do what it sometimes has to do to defend itself". His comments were condemned by other delegates at the meeting.
On 12 January 2020, in an interview with The Sunday Times, Wallace said that the UK "must be prepared to fight wars without the US", one of the UK's key allies. He stated that the upcoming Defence Review "should be used to make the UK less dependent on the US in future conflicts". His comments were made in response to US President Donald Trump's America First isolationist policies. Wallace also said that the next Defence Review would be the "deepest review" of Britain's defence and foreign policies since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Wallace said the US put Britain in a "very difficult position" following the withdrawal of most US troops from Afghanistan. Soon after the withdrawal of US troops had started, the Taliban had launched an offensive against the Afghan government, quickly advancing in front of a collapsing Afghan Armed Forces. Wallace said the UK would be ready to work with the Taliban should they come to power provided they adhere to certain international norms.
On 16 August 2021, during an interview on LBC about the US Afghanistan withdrawal, Wallace was asked by an LBC interviewer, "Why do you feel it so personally, Mr Wallace?" He replied with emotion; "Because I'm a soldier... because it's sad, and the West has done what it's done and we have to do our very best to get people out and stand by our obligations". On 26 August, Wallace was accused[by whom?] of abandoning Pen Farthing, who ran an animal sanctuary in Kabul and was seeking permission for a private jet to be given clearance by the Ministry of Defence to get 71 people and more than 100 animals to the UK. The next day, he gave clearance for the $500,000 private plane to land at Kabul Airport. Wallace said Ministry of Defence staff had suffered abuse from some of Farthing's supporters.
He married Liza Cooke in 2001 and they have three children. His wife worked as a part-time parliamentary assistant in his office until 30 April 2019. They met when she was a researcher in the Scottish Parliament and Wallace was a MSP. Wallace lives in Lancashire, and in London.