Environment Ministers amongst MP exodus as Boris Johnson steps down

UPDATED: Environment Ministers Jo Churchill and Rebecca Pow and BEIS private secretary Felicity Buchan have joined the string of people resigning from Government ahead of Boris Johnson, while George Eustice and Kwasi Kwarteng remain in their respective Secretary of State positions.

Environment Ministers amongst MP exodus as Boris Johnson steps down

There’s been very little said of it, but we’re currently halfway through the UK Government’s Net-Zero Week to raise awareness and catalyse action towards the net-zero target set for 2050. Instead of highlighting how the nation is striving to meet this target, the UK Government was rocked by a flurry of high-profile resignations from Conservative MPs in prominent positions on Tuesday night (5 July).

Rishi Sunak announced his resignation as Chancellor, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid has also resigned, stating to Boris Johnson: “the tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country. Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.”

“Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. It was a moment for humility, grip and a new direction. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”

Sunak and Javid’s announcements were followed by more than a dozen more. As of the time of writing the BBC has tallied up more than 50 resignations across the Conservative Party from ministers and aides.

This has culminated in Boris Johnson stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, with the intention of standing down as Prime Minister once a new successor has been chosen, which may not be decided until October.

Resignations of interest to those working within the UK’s green economy include that of Environment Minister Jo Churchill and Rebecca Pow. Junior Defra Minister Churchill wrote that it was “with a heavy heart” that she tendered her resignation letter.

Her letter states: “I was honoured to be… a Defra Minister, seeking solutions to climate adaptation and food security.

“Recent events have shown integrity, competence and judgement are all essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a jocular, self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations. Our beloved country is facing an uncertain future and strong headwinds. A clear, selfless vision is needed.”

Others resigning include Levelling Up Ministers Kemi Badenoch and Neil O’Brien; Business Minister Lee Rowley; BEIS Parliamentary Private Secretary Felicity Buchnan and Transport Parliamentary Private Secretaries Laura Trott and Nicola Richards.

Buchnan’s resignation letter states: “It is with great sadness that I tend my resignation. It has been a huge honour to have served in this Department at a time when energy security and the transition to net-zero are so critical.

“However, I am afraid that you have lost the confidence of my constituents and me. The current situation is untenable.”

These moves followed on from some resignations by those in slightly less senior, yet still important, green functions within Government.

Bim Afolami, who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainable Energy resigned as vice-chair of the Conservative Party. Elsewhere, Anthony Browne, the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group reiterated that he had “lost confidence” in the Prime Minister, warning that the current situation “is completely untenable”. Browne previously sent a letter of no confidence last month. Nicola Richards MP, who held a secretary position in the Department of Transport has also resigned.

Kwarteng, Sharma and Eustice to stay

Defra Secretary George Eustice has confirmed that he will remain in his post. Eustice was chosen to spearhead Defra in February 2020 by Johnson and survived the most recent reshuffle earlier this year.

BEIS Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is also not expected to resign. He had stayed quiet on the resignations and instead is spotlighting the fact that the Energy Security Bill will have its first reading in Parliament this week. Kwarteng was appointed to his current position in January 2021, taking over from Alok Sharma, who wanted to focus full-time on COP26. Kwarteng has since posted on Twitter that the situation was a “depressing state of affairs” and called for a new Prime Minister.

It was reported that Kwarteng was part of a delegation of MPs that met the Prime Minister at Number 10 last night following a gruelling PMQ session, calling for his resignation.

Also remaining are COP26 President Alok Sharma and International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was appointed to the role of International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 summit.

Sharma is currently visiting Turkey to discuss collaborative efforts to champion green solutions. He tweeted to state that he was “getting on with [his] job working with countries to deliver on their COP26 commitments”. He is yet to comment on the Prime Minister.

Elsewhere, former Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who hadn’t planned to resign, has been sacked as Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary.

Former BEIS Secretary, Greg Clark, who oversaw the delivery of the Industrial Strategy back in 2018, has stepped back into Cabinet, replacing Gove as Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

Sunak and Javid’s replacements

Nadhim Zahawi replaced Sunak as Chancellor, moving away from his previous role as Education Secretary. Zahawi was also part of the cohort of MPs to travel to Number 10 to call for the PM’s resignation.

Zahawi has historically voted against green legislation. The fact that he is a former oil industry executive has also raised eyebrows about his potential approach to the net-zero transition. Zahawi held a high-level role as chief strategy officer at Gulf Keystone Petroleum between 2015 and 2017, which he carried out in addition to being a backbench MP.

However, as Education Secretary, he did spearhead the development of a new strategy that aimed to embed sustainability and climate change awareness into the national curriculum for UK schools.

The former Education Secretary was in Glasgow for COP26 to announce that the science curriculum will be changed for school children by 2023, to include more information on nature and biodiversity and the impact which human activity is having on the climate and nature. While climate is already included in the national science and geography curriculums, there have been calls for an update in light of new climate science and the global net-zero movement.

Zahawi additionally outlined measures to make the operations of schools, nurseries and colleges more sustainable through the Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. The Strategy outlines plans on how to improve biodiversity across England’s estate of schools, colleges, nurseries and universities, which collectively cover an area more than twice as big as Birmingham – the UK’s fourth-largest city by area.

In a surprise move, Zahawi has now called for Johnson to resign.

Stepping into the Education Secretary role was Michelle Donelan, who has been working as the junior Minister for Higher and Further Education. Donelan is the MP for Chippenham. They Work For You states that she has “consistently” voted against measures to prevent climate change, with 14 votes since 2016. Donelan has since announced her resignation just two days after being appointed.

Replacing Sajid Javid as Health Secretary, meanwhile, is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay. Barclay has held previous government roles covering the Treasury, Health and Social Care and Exiting the EU.

According to They Work for You, Barclay has a patchy track record when it comes to voting on environmental legislation, having voted against delivering “a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth”. Barclay has historically voted against financial incentives for low-carbon solutions.

Green concerns

The UK finds itself building towards a net-zero target that needs to be financed through a realignment of the economy and striving for a green recovery for society by having to replace both its Chancellor and the Health Secretary.

Fresh off the back of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) warning that existing policies will deliver less than half the emissions reductions required to meet future Carbon Budgets, the timing of these resignations will only add to the political confusion bracing the green economy.

While there will no doubt be a lot of upheaval in any impending reshuffle – or even another vote of no confidence from the 1922 committee that could decide the Prime Minister’s fate. It has been reported that Johnson plans to stay on following his resignation in an “interim” capacity until the Autumn, but if the 1922 do appoint a new executive next week they could recast the no confidence vote, which in turn could see Johnson removed earlier.

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