Cabinet reshuffle: Sunak chooses junior ministers at BEIS and Defra
New Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak has conducted his first cabinet reshuffle. Here, we round up all the key moves impacting the UK’s green economy.
Shortly after 2pm on Monday (24 October), Sunak became the only person left in the latest Tory leadership race with the backing of more than 100 MPs. As such, he was sworn in as Party Leader and will, therefore, be the UK’s next Prime Minister.
After delivering his first speech in the role, top of his to-do list has been conducting a Cabinet reshuffle. Here, we look at those appointed to the top jobs relating to the UK’s green economy, at the Treasury, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Department of Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
This article was originally published on Tuesday 25 October and is being updated on Thursday 27 October to account for junior ministerial appointments.
Truss’s pick for Business and Energy Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, sent his resignation to 10 Downing Street this morning. He had backed Boris Johnson in the race to replace Truss but stated, when Sunak won, that “now is the time for Party unity”.
During his short time at BEIS, Rees-Mogg supported Truss’s overarching freeze to domestic energy prices and brought forward the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. He also reportedly advocated for a new national information and communications campaign around energy saving in the home. Truss is understood to have been against the campaign on the grounds that she does not believe the Government should be telling people how to behave in their day-to-day lives.
Under Rees-Mogg, BEIS paused the Energy Security Bill for review. The Bill is designed to bring forward many of the major measures included in the Energy Security Strategy and to kick-start reforms of the electricity markets. Time will tell when the Bill will be picked up again.
Succeeding Rees-Mogg is Grant Shapps. An MP since 2015, Shapps has help Ministerial roles in the Department for International Development and Department for Transport (Dft).
Under Shapps, the DfT published the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Although delayed due to Covid-19, it does, on the surface, fulfil the Department’s promise to outline how all modes of transportation would align with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.
The DfT also, under Shapps’ leadership, forged ahead with the Jet Zero Partnership and Strategy, designed to deliver a net-zero transition by 2040 for airport operations and domestic flights, and 2050 for international flights. Green campaigners have repeatedly slammed the Government for failing to cap passenger growth in the sector and potentially over-relying on technologies which are not yet at scale commercially, such as alternative fuels. Shapps himself is a supporter of the third runway at Heathrow.
Shapps, in line with his party, supports expanding nuclear and offshore wind. However, he has called onshore renewables an “eyesore” and stated that he would not support a significant expansion. He has vocally challenged arguments that the net-zero transition has contributed to high energy costs, rightly asserting that the majority of the blame lies with gas prices. He has also advocated for greater prioritization of climate resilience for infrastructure including transport systems.
TheyWorkForYou classes Shapps as having generally voted against financial incentives for low-carbon energy and against measures to reduce the UK’s emissions, in line with the Conservative Party’s record since 2015. Shapps is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.
Sunak has appointed George Freeman as Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation. Under Johnson, he was BEIS’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. He is reportedly glad to be back in the Department officially. Those who have been involved in UK green policy for some time may remember that Freeman was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Climate Change from 2010 to 2011
Also being chosen for Sunak’s BEIS team is Nusrat Ghani as Business Minister – a position she had held under both Johnson and Truss. The MP for Wealden sits on the BEIS Select Committee.
Finally, Sunak has stuck with Truss’s pick for climate minister, Graham Stuart. Stuart has, as IEMA has outlined, stated an ambition for the UK to decarbonise more rapidly and increase the scale of the deployment of offshore wind. However, his lack of scientific qualifications and bullish support for new oil and gas capacity in the North Sea, as well as support for fracking under Truss, have raised eyebrows.
Under Truss, Ranil Jayawardena, MP for North East Hampshire, was given the top job at Defra. Truss’s former junior at the Department for International Trade replaced George Eustice.
The last six weeks have seen headlines about Defra dominated by concerns about juxtaposing ‘green’ and ‘growth’ and potential backtracking on long-term nature pledges. Leading green NGOs have accused Truss and Jayawardena of an “attack on nature” with plans to weaken planning regulations
It will fall on Jayawardena’s replacement to allay these concerns. A list of proposed changes to farmer payment schemes was expected this week and we shall see if it still goes ahead.
Jayawardena resigned of his own accord. He wrote: “I know that you wish for a new team to join you, so I write to stand aside…. From food security and backing British farmers, to water security and growing our rural economy, I am sure that HM Government will continue to deliver, and you will have my support in doing so.”
Replacing Jayawardena is Therese Coffey, who said to media representatives that she is “going home to Defra”. An MP since 2010, Coffey served more than three years at Defra between 2016 and 2019 as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and then Minister of State.
During Coffey’s time at Defra, the Government brought in the 25-Year Environment Plan, with a headline vision to leave nature in a better state for the next generation. Other highlights from the Department in this period included a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic microbeads in health and beauty products.
More recently, Coffey has been accused of “manhandling” fellow MPs to vote in favour of keeping the ban on fracking lifted. She denies the accusations.
Joining Coffey at Defra is new environment minister Mark Spencer. Spencer, it is understood, will be leading on farming subsidy reforms and play a key role in shaping the National Food Strategy.
MP for Sherwood since 2010, Spencer has worked in whip positions on and off since 2017. He has previously sat on committees relating to business, the environment, and food and rural issues.
Jeremy Hunt, who was appointed by Truss after she sacked former Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng as Chancellor, is set to remain in the top job at the Treasury.
Providing an update on Truss’s initial mini-budget earlier this month, Hunt confirmed that plans to shield homes and businesses from rising energy costs would be reviewed next April. The review will be used to design a more targeted approach domestically, with the lowest-income homes and those most at risk of fuel poverty set to receive more support.
For businesses, the Energy Bill Relief scheme was only set to last from October 2022 to April 2023. The review will be used to develop a next stage. Hunt has spoken in favour of linking the scheme to energy efficiency improvements.
As Chancellor, Hunt may look to revive plans for a public information campaign on energy efficiency and work with Sunak to develop updated approaches to improving building energy efficiency. He will also have to make a decision around the future of the windfall tax and accompany super-deduction for oil companies in the North Sea, initially announced
Hunt has been a member of the Conservative Environment Network since March 2022. He said at the time: “Now more than ever, in light of the global gas crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s vital we decarbonise the UK’s economy by 2050. We must develop more homegrown clean energy, including renewables and new nuclear. This will lower people’s bills, strengthen our energy security and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.”
In joining the Network, MPs pledge to support sustainable farming; home-grown renewables; home insulation; the electric vehicle (EV) transition and emerging clean technologies. They also pledge to uphold the Environment Bill.
Hunt is against fracking and has twice voted for the sector to be more regulated. He is also an advocate for higher taxes on plane tickets. However, as he has voted in line with his Party on environmental issues, TheyWorkForYou deems him as generally having voted against measures to reduce UK emissions.
Hunt’s top team consists of John Glen (Chief Secretary to the Treasury); Andrew Griffith (Economic Secretary); Victoria Atkins (Financial Secretary) and Felicity Buchan (Exchequer Secretary).
It has been confirmed that Alok Sharma will remain in his tole as COP26 President. The UK officially holds the COP Presidency until 6 November, when it will be handed over to Egypt as it begins its own iteration of the UN climate summit.
Given that there are mere days until the summit begins, it is being reported, Sunak will no longer invite Sharma to attend Cabinet meetings.