BEIS and Defra’s new look: What we know about Leadsom and Villiers’ views on the environment
And breathe. In what has been the biggest political reshuffle since the 1960s, Andrea Leadsom has been appointed Business Secretary at BEIS, while Theresa Villiers has become Defra's new Environment Secretary. So, how well do the pair match up with their respective briefs?
Wednesday night (24 July) has been dubbed the “summer’s day massacre” and likened to Harold Macmillan’s “night of the long knives” in which he dismissed seven members of his cabinet in 1962. Not to be outdone, Boris Johnson oversaw 17 ministers being sacked or resigning from their posts.
The end result: a cabinet representing Johnson’s Brexit position with many incoming ministers either having been a prominent part of the Vote Leave campaign or staunch allies of the “no deal”. Leadsom and Villiers are two prime examples with both being long-term supporters of Brexit and campaigning side-by-side to leave the EU in 2016.
Leadsom is a name which probably rings a bell for sustainability and energy professionals. She served as Minister of State for Energy at the now-defunct Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) from May until the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Leadsom was then given the job of Environment Secretary in July 2016 as part of Theresa May’s first reshuffle as Prime Minister, which she held until the following summer’s general election.
READ: Cabinet reshuffle: Andrea Leadsom replaces Greg Clark as Business Secretary, Claire Perry becomes COP26 President
There was some concern about Leadsom when she took on the role of Energy Minister as she had previously been sceptical of climate change, but she now claims to be “completely persuaded”, according to an article in The Independent.
Business energy views:
Before taking up that role at DECC, Leadsom had spoken against renewable energy targets for the EU and the construction of large-scale wind farms in the UK. And perhaps her most memorable move while in the post was her decision in 2015 to end taxpayer-funded subsidies for onshore wind farms – a move which came a year earlier than planned, and paved the way for such facilities being locked out of the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme.
But Leadsom’s time as Energy Minister was also defined by her strong stance on plastics. She launched the consultation on banning microbeads and suggested that similar moves should be launched for plastic-stemmed cotton buds. This is something that she has continued to talk about since introduction and moving on from the role.
Leadsom is also pro-fracking and has spoken in Parliament about the opportunity that shale gas exploration presents as well as at various external forums. She has also spoken about how we are not going to move away from fossil fuels “anytime soon” and has been vocal about the environmental legislative outlook post-Brexit in her previous role as Environment Secretary.
On Brexit, Leadsom fiercely rejected claims at an Environmental Audit Committee session in October 2016 that the UK’s exit from the EU would produce an unpredictable environmental outlook for the UK, echoing previous claims by Resource Minister Therese Coffey that the Conservative administration will “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”. But Leadsom did admit that not all EU law would be easily transposed into UK law with two-thirds to three-quarters of legislation being “feasible”.
Interestingly, her language and beliefs does appear to have shifted to a more outright pro-climate action stance with her saying to the internal parliamentary magazine, The House, in May that she supported a climate emergency and that the clean growth sector could be bigger than the whole financial services sector.
Villiers has held various cabinet positions since the Conservative-led coalition in 2010 and is also a member of the Privy Council. She was a staunch support of David Cameron during his reign as Prime Minister before becoming one of six cabinet members to support the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
Villiers is a passionate supporter of Brexit and is closely associated with the European Research Group of MPs which includes such no deal Brexiteers as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker and Mark Francois.
When it comes to views on climate change and the environment, the one policy that sticks out for Theresa Villiers is Heathrow expansion, which she has been opposing for more than a decade in Parliament. And, more generally, she has spoken out against airport expansion in the south of England, including the Boris Johnson proposal for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, expansion of Stansted and Gatwick. Additionally, Villiers favours the high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and has been
Citing poor air quality in her 2016 statement on the issue of expansion, Villiers said “we should not make a serious problem even worse by trying to expand Heathrow”.
The Chipping Barnet MP is also a strong advocate of animal welfare, having spoken out about the live export of animals for slaughter. She stated in 2017 that “excessive, long-distance transport of live animals for slaughter can cause great suffering”. She also supported the ban on hunting wild animals with dogs, although she said there is scope for reform of the Hunting Bill.
In May of this year, Villiers submitted a post on her Facebook account about climate action. In the post, Villiers said: “Action on climate change is vital. Significant progress has been made, with a third of our electricity now generated by clean renewable power sources. We are also the first major developed economy to make a commitment that we will end the use of unmitigated coal in electricity generation.”
Like Leadsom, Villiers is in favour of fracking, after previously voting against a ban on shale gas exploration and issuing a statement on her website which sought to allay concerns about the controversial practice. However, on a more positive note, Villiers has occasionally supported climate action, backed some environmental policies and endorsed particular low-carbon initiatives.
Her voting record show that, in 2012, she voted against a bill which would have required the Green Investment Bank to support a target of lower carbon emissions. Then, in 2013, Villiers voted against a bill to set a target for the amount of greenhouse gases the UK produced. And in 2015, she voted for the Climate Change Levy to be applied to electricity generated from renewables.
Villiers has also endorsed specific environmental projects, including the low-carbon lifestyle project, One Home. Commenting on that project, Villiers said: “Many of us find it hard to switch to greener more sustainable lifestyles and One Home provides some really useful guidance on how to play a part in tackling climate change in a way which is practical and affordable.”
Perhaps her most telling comments came in 2010 when she was a junior minister who was working in the Department for Transport: “I am not modally neutral. While I resist measures designed just to bully people out of their cars I see it as a crucially important part of the job of Secretary of State to promote lower carbon transport options; to find ways to make it easier for people to make travel choices that generate less pollution; in short, to make it easier to for people to be green.”
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