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Grant Shapps accused of igniting 'weird culture war spat around wokery' over armed forces diversity plan

A Conservative peer has criticised the defence secretary for stoking a "weird culture war spat around 'wokery'" with his views around diversity in the armed forces.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Tory peer and former minister, accused Grant Shapps of "undermining" the armed forces "where morale is often low".

Ms Warsi was referring to Mr Shapps' decision to lodge a "root-and-branch review" of ethnicity, diversity and inclusivity policies in defence following reports in the Sunday Telegraph that the army wanted to relax security clearance vetting for overseas recruits to boost diversity and inclusion.

Speaking to the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, Baroness Warsi said: "I am really concerned when I turn on the television and I hear the defence secretary having some weird culture war spat around 'wokery', and I'm thinking, 'you don't have a clue!

"You're undermining our armed forces where morale is often low, where they don't have the best of housing, they haven't had the best of conditions."

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Baroness Warsi called for a defence secretary who is "going to take these matters seriously", bolster troop numbers, and commit to NATO.

She said the UK was meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence, but only because of money spent on the war in Ukraine.

"We've really got to start looking at this again - either we are serious about NATO and about defence, and we have to put our money where our mouth is, or we're not," she said.

Baroness Warsi's criticism comes after the Sunday Telegraph reported the Army wants to relax security clearance vetting for overseas recruits to boost diversity and inclusion.

The newspaper reported that the measure was being considered because of the consistent failure to hit recruitment targets.

The Sunday Telegraph said it had seen a document, titled The British Army's Race Action Plan, which outlines a series of "actions" to boost representation and describes security checks as "the primary barrier to non-UK personnel gaining a commission in the Army".

The guidance reportedly vows to "challenge SC [security clearance] requirements" to increase representation in the intelligence and officer corps, roles which have "uncontrolled access to secret assets".

Mr Shapps told the newspaper: "There will certainly not be any lowering of security clearance requirements on my watch.

"Time and resources are being squandered to promote a political agenda which is pitting individuals against each other, when what we need is a common set of values which delivers the military we need to defend us and our allies.

"This extremist culture has crept in over years and it is time for a proper shake-up, designed to refocus the military on its core mission - being a lethal fighting force... It is time for common sense instead of divisiveness."

Mr Shapps's review comes amid a wider debate about the state of the armed forces.

Earlier this month, parliament's Defence Select Committee found the army was losing personnel faster than they could recruit, leaving its "warfighting readiness" in doubt.

The report also found the military had "key capability and stockpile shortages" that would hamper its ability to engage in "all-out, prolonged war".

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A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: "Our armed forces are always ready to protect and defend the UK, and we continue to meet all operational commitments, including participating in every single NATO mission, supporting Ukraine, and tackling Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

"We are spending more than £50bn on defence this year alone, and have significantly increased our spending on defence equipment to £288.6bn over the next decade, including investing in deepening our stockpiles and bringing in new tanks, fighter jets and warships.

"We have been clear that increasing recruitment and improving retention across the services is a top priority, including through ensuring improved career opportunities and making it easier for people to re-join the forces, on top of the largest pay increase in more than 20 years."