From fruit farmer to Environment Secretary: George Eustice to spearhead Defra

Before departing in February

Eustice, the MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, was re-instated to a Ministerial post at the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), covering Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming in July. He had left the post at the start of 2019 over Brexit concerns, but has today been elevated to environment minister, replacing Villiers who only received the position in the July reshuffle. Before the brief hiatus, Eustice had been a Defra minister since October 2013.

Eustace has grown up surrounded by farming and with strong committee experience in the environmental field, it is likely that he will play a key role in the negotiations with the EU as the UK weans of the Common Agricultural Policy.

He was elected to be an MP in 2010 after working with Michael Howard on the press team for the 2005 General Election. In 2000, Eustice was appointed as Campaign Director for “No”, the campaign group to ensure that the UK did not adopt the Euro as the national currency. Prior to that, he worked on the family farm business for nine years.

His family still run a fruit farm, restaurant and shop in Cornwall, where they have a herd of south Devon cattle and British Lop pigs.

In March 2019, Eustice penned a strongly worded opinion piece in the Guardian, claiming that the UK couldn’t ignore environmental standards in favour of watered-down trade deals with the US – especially on food standards and chlorinated chicken. He is now in a much stronger position to alleviate those concerns. 

According to TheyWorkForYou Eustice “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change” but voted for higher taxes on plane tickets.

He also voted for greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) but consistently voted for new high-speed rail infrastructure.

Villiers out

A statement from Villiers reads: “What the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister taketh away…This morning he told me that I needed to make way for someone new.

“I am deeply grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve twice at the highest level of Government, first as Northern Ireland Secretary and then as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I tackled both roles with passion, commitment and huge amounts of hard work.”

Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, has held various cabinet positions since the Conservative-led coalition in 2010 and is also a member of the Privy Council. She is staunchly against the Heathrow expansion and a long-term campaigner for animal rights and “modal switch” in transport – namely getting people to travel by foot, bike, public or shared transport rather than private vehicles.

However, green campaigners have voiced concerns that Villiers has continually voted in favour of fracking and against mandatory carbon reduction targets, both for businesses and for the nation as a whole.

SUEZ recycling and recovery UK’s chief executive John Scanlon said: “We welcome George Eustice as the new Secretary of State and look to him to continue the strong leadership displayed by recent Defra ministers, essential if we are to achieve the necessary step-change in the country’s relationship with our natural environment as we work towards achieving a more circular economy.

“Mr Eustice’s long and proven track record as a minister working with Defra and in energy and environment policy teams, sends a clear and welcome message that the Government is intent upon realising its environmental ambition. Working with other government departments, Defra can ensure the success of this plethora of new policies by establishing investable conditions in which the required system and infrastructure changes can come forward.”

Matt Mace

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