Grant Shapps is ordering a review of diversity and inclusion policy at the Ministry of Defence following reports that the Army wants to relax security checks for overseas recruits to boost ethnic minority representation.

The Defence Secretary said there will be no “lowering of security clearance requirements on my watch” after the Sunday Telegraph reported it had seen a British Army document vowing to “challenge” security checks to increase diversity.

The newspaper said the armed forces are looking overseas to attract ethnic minority talent because they have long failed to hit recruitment targets.

Mr Shapps is said to be “genuinely furious about this woke nonsense” and does not believe such policies are the way to address the military’s recruitment crisis.

He also said that a “woke culture has seeped into public life and it is poisoning common sense discourse”, writing in The Express: “I am in a position to challenge this philosophy and I will.”

The 2023 British Army’s Race Action Plan, outlining measures to boost representation, describes security clearance vetting as being “the primary barrier to non-UK personnel gaining a commission in the Army” and vows to “challenge SC (security clearance) requirements,” according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Shapps said: “I am ordering a review of diversity and inclusivity policy at the MoD.

“We want people from all backgrounds to serve in our military but some policies appear to be more about a political agenda than practically improving the lives of our dedicated soldiers and military personnel.

“There will certainly not be any lowering of security clearance requirements on my watch.

“And no-one should be offended by having religion as part of remembrance services. You don’t have to be Christian to appreciate and respect the history and traditions of the United Kingdom.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Cabinet minister Michael Gove suggested political correctness should not impair the UK’s ability to defend its borders (Lucy North/PA)

A source close to the Defence Secretary said: “He’s determined it is rooted out on his watch. He’s ready to go to battle on it…

“There are personnel issues that need addressing in the armed services but some of these policies are about a woke agenda.”

Meanwhile, fellow Cabinet minister Michael Gove said political correctness should not “impair our ability to defend our borders”.

The Housing Secretary told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, has been looking at the specific policies we have in the Ministry of Defence in order to ensure that we strike the right balance, that we provide protection for individuals in our armed forces, that we make sure that we draw all the talent available in this country to ensure that we have a strong and diverse military, but also to make sure that these policies operate in such a way as to ensure that political correctness, or some of the more – what’s the word? – ‘out there’ approaches that people take towards diversity, equity and inclusion don’t impair our ability to defend our borders and to make sure that this country is secure.”

But Mr Gove would not name a practical example of a situation in which an aim to get more diversity in the ranks threatens security.

“You wouldn’t expect me to go into details of security policy,” the senior Conservative said.

“When you’re thinking about who should be in our military, and who should be responsible for the life-and-death actions that determine whether or not all of us can sleep safely at night, then you’ve got to make decisions about personnel and their deployment that are sharper and more acute than in other workplaces.

“Some of the policies that might apply appropriately in other workplaces would not be appropriate in the military.

“We know that there need to be levels of fitness. We know that there need to be appropriate selection criteria in making sure that we have the people whom we want defending our way of life.”

An MoD spokesman said: “Our priority is protecting the national security of the United Kingdom and ensuring the operational effectiveness of our armed forces.

“We take security extremely seriously and ensure that all personnel have the appropriate security clearance, which is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “National security must always be the first priority for any government and our armed forces must never relax security checks for recruits.

“But from missing their own hiring targets every year to overseeing the terrible state of military housing, the forces’ recruitment crisis has been caused by 14 years of Conservative failure.

“Labour will always put our national security first.”

Mr Healey also criticised Mr Shapps after the Defence Secretary was accused of inflating the MoD’s budget by claiming he had £288 billion to spend on armed forces equipment over the next decade.

That is far higher than the £242 billion figure included in the MoD’s previous year’s 10-year equipment plan. Defence Analysis editor Francis Tusa told the Sunday Telegraph the uplift was “a punt by the MoD that it will get the dosh”.

Labour frontbencher Mr Healey tweeted: “For fourteen years the Conservatives have failed to get a grip of deep problems in defence.

“Ministers playing fast and loose with defence budget figures makes it harder still to deal with the challenges our UK forces face.

“The Conservatives are failing British troops and British taxpayers. With war in Europe and conflict in the Middle East, this risks leaving our armed forces without the equipment they need to fight and fulfil our Nato obligations.”