Cabinet reshuffle: Theresa Villiers replaces Michael Gove as Environment Secretary

Theresa Villiers appears to be an advocate for climate action

Following a largely successful 18-month stint at Defra, Gove has taken up the role of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is seen as a promotion for the Surrey Heath MP.

Meanwhile, arch Brexiter Villiers steps into the Department having previously been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a minister in the Department for Transport. 

Theresa Villiers IN

Villiers, who has argued for a ‘no deal’ Brexit — which many believe could have damaging consequences for UK green policy — has a somewhat mixed environmental track record. 

  • 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 also appears to be 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.

  • Villiers has previously spoken out against the expansion of Heathrow Airport over environmental concerns. Citing poor air quality in her 2016 statement, 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 alughter can cause great suffering”.
  • 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.”

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.”

Michael Gove OUT

As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Gove’s responsibilities will include managing an investment portfolio of land, property and financial investments, and advising Johnson on developing and implementing Government policy. The job will also take Gove close to the Brexit negotiations, having been a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign. 

However, Gove was not given the role of First Secretary of State  referred to as Deputy Prime Minister — as that job went to new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

As one of the driving forces of the Brexit campaign, Gove replaced former Andrea Leadsom as Defra Secretary in June 2017. Green groups were initially cautious of Gove’s appointment as he had reportedly attempted to remove climate change issues from the school curriculum during a previous stint as Education Secretary.

Gove’s green policy progress

In November 2018, Gove reportedly turned down the Brexit Secretary role to remain on in Defra. Weeks later, he stated he was “very glad” that he had stayed on at Defra in favour of the Brexit Secretary job. Asked how committed he remained as Environment Secretary, Gove said he would carry on “for as long as I can be useful” to the Department.

Having led the delivery of Defra’s 25-Year Environment Plan, Gove has been a central figure in the Government’s plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. He notably spearheaded a cross-party movement to phase-out single-use plastics as part of Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign. And more recently, Gove announced his support for an “all-in” deposit-return scheme, claiming the scheme would create a “clearer financial and social signal to recycle” for consumers and businesses alike.

Gove also ushered in a ban on bee-harming pesticides, and moved to protect environmental legislation post-Brexit, by agreeing to set up a ‘shadow watchdog’ for post-Brexit environmental protection — despite Defra itself losing more than two-thirds of its employees, who were instead tasked with delivering the UK’s exit from the EU.

Gove was also a vocal figurehead that tended to show some genuine compassion in response to the youth climate strikes, claiming that “collective action of the kind [the strikes] are championing can make a difference, and a profound one… together we can beat climate change”.

READ: Cabinet reshuffle: Andrea Leadsom replaces Greg Clark as Business Secretary, Claire Perry becomes COP26 President



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Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

Comments (1)

  1. Luke Douglas-Home says:

    Gove was a radical positive-change-maker for the Environment, we think. Villiers does not have the same radicalism, or does she?!

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