Michael Gove appointed Environment Secretary in cabinet reshuffle

Michael Gove, one of the driving forces of the Brexit campaign, has made a shock return to the front bench to lead Defra as part of a reshuffle of Theresa May's cabinet following the UK General Election.

Michael Gove replaces Andrea Leadsom, who has shifted sideways to become leader of the House of Commons. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

Michael Gove replaces Andrea Leadsom, who has shifted sideways to become leader of the House of Commons. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

Gove, who was sacked by May last year, was the biggest mover in a reshuffle of some of May's top team, as the Prime Minister looks to shore up her authority over the Conservatives following last week's election which saw the party lose its majority.

Meanwhile, green groups will welcome the news that BEIS Secretary Greg Clark has been listed among the ministers that will remain in their roles in what was a reshuffle of just a handful of cabinet members.

Defra priorities

Having comfortably retained his Surrey Heath seat on Thursday night, Gove replaces former Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom – May’s 2016 leadership rival – who has moved on to become leader of the House of Commons.

Gove's new role in charge of Defra gives him the difficult tasks of ensuring all relevant EU energy and environmental regulations are transposed into UK law following Brexit, and of releasing the much-delayed 25-Year Plan for the environment - both of which edie readers have highlighted as top priorities for the new Conservative minority government

He will also be tasked with finalising the Government's air quality plan, which is currently facing a third wave of legal action.

Green groups will undoubtedly have questions about Gove's level of ambition in his new role, after the MP reportedly attempted to remove climate change isues from the school curriculum during his stint as Education Secretary – although Gove insisted at the time that the motivation was to slim down the syllabus and was not borne out of climate scepticism.

While Gove's personal views on environmental issues remain relatively unknown, the MP did recently speak out about EU rules regarding the development of new homes in environmentally sensitive areas. Gove said that regulations under the EU's Habitats Directive should be scrapped because they "increase costs and regulatory burdens", despite the rules being in place to protect wildlife.

Election uncertainty

The green business community has been thrown into a state of further uncertainty following last week's General Election result which saw Prime Minister May agree to form a Government with the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

On the one hand, the likelihood of a ‘soft Brexit’ has increased somewhat now that the DUP has given its support to the Tory Government, as the Unionists have said they are keen to ensure Northern Ireland’s border with the Irish Republic remains as "seamless and frictionless" as possible.

However, it is feared that the DUP’s newfound influence on UK politics could have a negative impact on green policy, with the party having previously appointed a climate change denier as Northern Ireland Environment Minister, and last year becoming embroiled in controversy around a failed Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme (RHI) which cost Northern Irish taxpayers more than £400m.

Clark's re-appointment will therefore come as welcome news, with the Tunbridge Wells MP having established himself as an advocate of climate action and a suporter of low-carbon technology and innovation within his first year in the role.

Luke Nicholls


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