Boris Johnson allegedly overruled military on new Armed Forces Head

Boris Johnson’s choice for new Armed Forces head Admiral Sir Tony Radakin ‘was NOT the MoD’s preferred candidate’ it is claimed – as naval officer is accused of ‘undermining’ Marines general who killed himself

  • Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, 55, has become the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job
  • It comes days after death of Royal Marines general Major General Matt Holmes, who killed himself
  • Meanwhile, messages from Major General Holmes claimed he was undermined by Admiral Sir Tony  

Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure a state-school educated Royal Navy admiral was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces – even going against his own Defence Secretary’s advice, it has been claimed.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, 55, has become the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job and will lead 159,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel from next month. His appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff came days after the death of Royal Marines general Major General Matt Holmes, who killed himself on Saturday.

Defence sources told the Daily Telegraph that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had recommended promoting General Sir Patrick Sanders, who is in charge of the country’s Special Forces and military cyber operations.

The Ministry of Defence is also understood to have favoured Sir Patrick for the role, but the Prime Minister went against this and opted for former First Sea Lord Sir Tony. This is understood to have been because of Sir Tony’s naval background, which is seen as being vital to the Government’s ambitions to build better global trading links.

Mr Johnson was also said to have ‘gone with his gut’ when he appointed the officer from Oldham – dubbed the ‘Red Wall military chief’. Sir Tony will take over from Army General Sir Nick Carter on November 30.

It comes after Major General Holmes, 54, the former Commandant General of the Marines, was found dead at his family home in Winchester, Hampshire, over the weekend. There were no suspicious circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail revealed today that Sir Tony undermined Major General Holmes, according to messages from the officer. The two were previously close friends, but fell out bitterly over changes to the Marines this year. The dispute led to Major General Holmes leaving his post as Commandant General in April – halfway through a three-year appointment.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure Royal Navy admiral Sir Tony Radakin was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces, it has been claimed. The two are pictured together on HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth in May

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin (pictured in April) yesterday became the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job

Major General Matthew Holmes, who has died, won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Now a Daily Mail investigation has found that he felt deeply let down by the admiral, who was his boss as the Marines are part of the Navy. 

A directive from Sir Tony’s office included a gagging order banning the Marines officer from discussing key issues with colleagues, including the commander of the US Marine Corps (USMC), General David Berger.

Major General Holmes was also warned to ‘expect a more limited role’ in the Marines. The order and the tone of Sir Tony’s remarks left the father-of-two deeply upset. 

He wrote to a friend: ‘I’ve had a very tough year. I feel beaten down. Not listened to, merely run over by someone with no military judgment: Too much is about appearance.

‘I don’t trust Radakin. It’s been awful. Awful. You should see the tone of some of the emails I’ve had from Radakin. Basically imposing his authority and keeping me constrained.

‘Kept away from ministers. All about his narrative. He doesn’t get the corps. But I know Gen Berger recognises my concerns (another one that Radakin ordered me not to engage with regarding my post).

‘Radakin sees himself as owning the USMC relationship. Berger doesn’t! At all. He wants to talk to me. How do you think I feel…’

Sir Tony’s efforts to bring the Commandant General into line came to a head late last year after a series of heated arguments between the two about the future of Major General Holmes’ post.

A document distributed to senior officers read: ‘I [Sir Tony] will engage with ministers and our international partners. The debate has to be toned down and ideally stopped. This is about my authority. International engagement by CGRM [Major General Holmes] is to stop. The CGRM focus is to ensure the corps delivers on its tasks, seeking opportunities for increased integration with the Royal Navy and preparing for a more limited role as CGRM from April 2021.’

The pair are also said to have disagreed about closer integration of the Marines within the Navy – a move resisted by Major General Holmes.

The complaint in Major General Holmes’ text to a friend that ‘too much is about appearance’ was said to refer to jibes about his height – he was 5ft 2in, according to media reports. 

Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry, the former Captain General of the Royal Marines, and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

But he was well-liked by Marines and enjoyed their company. He served in all Britain’s recent conflicts and won a Distinguished Service Order for commanding troops under fire.

Sir Tony was described yesterday as an ‘outstanding military leader’ and, as head of the Navy, has been credited with deploying more naval personnel on the frontline and more ships at sea.

He is being replaced as First Sea Lord by Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, who led the UK’s airlift of British citizens and Afghans from Kabul after the Taliban takeover.

Last night a Navy spokesman said: ‘Our condolences, prayers and deepest sympathy are with Matt’s family. Their loss is the greatest and most painful. The entire naval service will be there for them now and always.’

Major General Holmes’s family declined to comment.

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