Michael Gove named as Environment Secretary in controversial choice
Former Justice and Education Secretary Michael Gove has emerged as the unlikely choice to take over as Environment Secretary after his return to government was confirmed by Theresa May following the fallout from last week’s surprise election result.
The appointment of Gove has turned heads given his ambiguous prior stance on climate change. While Education Secretary, he attempted to remove climate change from the school curriculum, but attributed this to slimming down the syllabus as opposed to questioning the science behind it, while his Parliamentary voting record reveals his longstanding opposition to measures to prevent climate change.
He has also previously been critical of planning regulations on green belt and environmentally sensitive land, directing his ire at EU legislation such as the Habitats Directive, and has advocated the stripping back of such regulations following Brexit.
He will now be in charge of restructuring the UK’s agricultural subsidies following the UK’s departure from the EU, and will oversee the transfer of EU environment legislation to the UK’s body of law.
It seems not even Gove himself foresaw his return to frontline politics following his sacking from the cabinet last summer after an abortive attempt to take the Conservative leadership.
Commenting on his appointment to Sky News, Gove, who described himself at the launch of the Conservative Environment Network in 2014 as a "shy green", said: “I was quite surprised, I have to say... I genuinely didn’t expect this role. I am delighted to be part of the government, I am delighted to be able to support Theresa to ensure that we have a government capable of delivering on the people’s wishes.”
He added: “Environment Secretary is a really important job and I am flattered that Theresa May has asked me to rejoin her team and I hope to play a part in ensuring, as we prepare to leave the European Union and things like the Common Agricultural Policy no longer apply, that we safeguard what is best in our environment, and that those who make our countryside beautiful and keep it productive are at the very heart of policymaking.”
Gove ‘unfit to be Environment Secretary’
Given his chequered past regarding environmental policy (voting against moves to have the Green Investment Bank support carbon emission reduction targets and to require environmental permits for hydraulic fracturing activities and supporting the privatisation of the UK’s forests), it is no surprise that his appointment has not been universally welcomed.
Caroline Lucas MP, Co-Leader of the Green Party has been especially scathing, stating that Gove is ‘unfit’ to be Environment Secretary: “It is hard to think of many politicians as ill equipped for the role of Environment Secretary as Michael Gove”, she said.
“His record of voting against measures to halt climate change and his attempt to wipe the subject from our children’s curriculum show him entirely unfit to lead our country in tackling one of the greatest threats we face. And as we enter Brexit negotiations, Gove’s past suggestion we scrap vital EU environmental protections becomes ever more concerning.
“This appointment is further evidence of both Theresa May’s complete disregard for the environment and her desperation to hold together a government in chaos.”
Despite the Conservatives’ failure to win a majority that at times had seemed a formality, May has not deemed it necessary to shake up her cabinet too much and instead appears to be attempting to restore status quo ante bellum, with the only other high profile movement being the appointment of ally Damien Green as First Secretary of State (effectively Deputy Prime Minister) and the removal of Liz Truss as Justice Secretary.
Aside from Gove’s appointment it appears unlikely that there will be further upheaval at the Department for the Environment, with Resources Minister Therese Coffey currently in Italy for a G7 meeting on the Paris Agreement and George Eustice set to retain his role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of state for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment.
Greg Clark has also been kept on as Secretary of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also suggests that work on the government’s industrial strategy will not be delayed too much.
Despite Gove’s questionable environmental record, those seeking certainty within the waste and resources sector can release some of their bated breath now it seems there is unlikely to be further change within the department.
The reshuffle follows a challenging weekend for the government as May scrambles to secure a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland after falling nine seats short of a majority, securing 317 seats, with a resurgent Labour under Jeremy Corbyn winning 262 seats.