Coffey holds onto Resources Minister role after Gove selection

Therese Coffey will retain her role as Resources Minister after Theresa May decided to maintain the status quo within the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) following the appointment of Michael Gove as Environment Secretary.

Coffey holds onto Resources Minister role after Gove selection
Although some were predicting that Coffey might be replaced at Defra, her reappointment was confirmed today (14 June), and the minister spent the past weekend at a G7 Environment meeting in Italy, where environment ministers and European Commissioners discussed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, the circular economy and marine litter, among other topics.

Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, was first given the portfolio in August, when May assumed the role of Prime Minister. Her brief initially contained ‘waste management’, a narrowing down of her predecessor Rory Stewart’s responsibility for ‘resource and environmental management’, but this was updated after several months in the role.

In her time as Resources Minister, Coffey has reiterated the preference of the government to use voluntary commitments and measures to enact change, rather than introduce new regulations. This was particularly clear during her evidence session with the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs inquiry on food waste.

Coffey has also expressed apprehension with the concept of a circular economy, telling the Environmental Audit Committee last year: “The word circular economy to me is at risk of implying there isn’t growth, we can continue to grow, it doesn’t just need to be a closed loop.” She added that some of the proposals included in the EU's Circular Economy Package could result in "perverse" outcomes

Following her confirmation, Defra again lists Coffey’s responsibilities as:

  • natural environment, including biodiversity, the marine environment, and international wildlife trafficking;
  • rural life opportunities, covering rural childcare, education and skills, and health;
  • floods, water and waterways;
  • air quality; and
  • resource and environment management.

With her reappointment in the role, Coffey is likely – barring another election being held this year – to exceed the usual lifespan for a minister at Defra. Stewart held the position for 14 months, his predecessor Dan Rogerson 19 months, and David Heath 13 months before him.

Elsewhere in Defra, George Eustice was again named Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, while Lord Gardiner of Kimble remained as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity.

Indeed, the only change at the department following the election as the appointment of former Justice and Education Secretary Michael Gove to replace Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary.

The relative stability in the department could be good news for its much-awaited 25-year plan for the environment, which was near completion prior to the snap election being called.

The resources industry is hoping that the plan will provide some indication of the government’s policy plans for waste, with Brexit and the EU’s circular economy legislation on the horizon.

Coffey holds onto Resources Minister role after Gove selection
Coffey spoke at a Green Hustings held in the build-up to the general election
It remains to be seen whether Gove, whose brief includes ‘oversight of EU exit work and the overall policy programme’, will want to delay further the publication of the document to provide his own input.

Gove appointment ‘a concern’

The decision to put Gove in charge of the environment has not been met favourably with many commentators.

The minister, who has previously been unsupportive of action against climate change and even attempted to have it removed from the curriculum whilst in charge of education, was called ‘entirely unfit’ for the role by Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas, who added that the appointment was “further evidence of both Theresa May’s complete disregard for the environment”.

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth was also critical, saying: “Michael Gove’s appointment as environment minister is a concern. He attempted to remove climate change from the geography national curriculum, and has even suggested watering down EU wildlife protection rules.

“Young people, who voted in droves at the general election, care about the state of their environment. If Theresa May wants to engage with the youth vote she has made a poor start.”

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