Theresa Villiers appointed Environment Secretary after Cabinet clearout

Theresa Villiers has been appointed Environment Secretary after Boris Johnson’s extensive Cabinet reshuffle following his confirmation as the UK’s next prime minister.

Villiers replaces Michael Gove at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) who has been appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Gove had been in the role since May 2017, overseeing somewhat of a renaissance for the department as environmental policy rose to the top of the government’s agenda.

During Gove’s time at Defra, he earned praise from the waste and resources sector for putting waste at the forefront of environmental policy, winning over swathes of those sceptical at his initial appointment.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers
New Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers
Gove presided over the publication of the 25-Year Environment Plan and the long-awaited Resources and Waste Strategy, the most significant piece of waste policy in a decade. The former Education and Justice Secretary took to tackling single-use plastic waste with zeal, banning microbeads in wash-off cosmetic products and implementing a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England.

During his two-year tenure as Environment Secretary, Gove showed particular enthusiasm for a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers, which is now set to be introduced by 2023 as one of the standout proposals included in the Resources and Waste Strategy, with Gove having given his backing to an ‘all-in’ model that would see all drinks containers of all sizes and material carry a deposit.

Villiers arrives with no prior experience in the environment sector and a mixed voting record on environmental issues in the House of Commons, voting against measures to tackle climate change and enforcing greater regulation of fracking activities.

Gove leaves Defra with his reputation enhanced, with Mary Creagh, the Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) who provided intense scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s plans for the environment, taking to Twitter to say she was “sorry” see him leave, and that Villiers faced a “baptism of fire” at Defra questions at 9.30am this morning.

Creagh added: “I want to pay tribute to Michael Gove for his work as Environment Secretary over the past two years.

“I welcome Theresa Villiers in her appointment to the role. She joins at a particularly challenging time for the environment with the threat of a no-deal Brexit looming over our environmental protections. She will need to ensure that investment in the environment is a priority for the Budget and next year’s spending review.

“I’m calling on Theresa to ensure that the proposed watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, is given powers to hold government to account should we leave the EU; to bring forward the introduction of the deposit return scheme as soon as possible; and promote a circular economy for fashion to prevent hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill each year.”

There is currently no indication that Resources Minister Therese Coffey is to be moved from Defra, with the minister answering questions on Villiers' behalf at Defra questions in the Commons this morning.

Villiers’ in-tray is certainly full, with pushing through the Environment Bill and implementing the policies contained in the Resources and Waste Strategy first among her concerns.

Getting the band back together

Since his entry into 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson has wasted no time in attempting to stamp his authority on proceedings. In Johnson’s night of the long knives on Wednesday (24 July), the new Prime Minister cleared out 18 Cabinet ministers, including all members of the Cabinet that backed Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative leadership election, including Hunt himself, who left the Cabinet after refusing the Defense brief.

In their place, Johnson has sought to fill the vacant positions with avowed Brexit supporters, particularly those that have expressed support for ‘no deal’ if that is the only way for the UK to leave the EU on 31 October.

In particular, members of Vote Leave, the group that campaigned for the UK to leave the EU during the Brexit referendum in 2016 have been brought back into the fold. Priti Patel and Dominic Raab, ardent Brexiteers of the ‘no deal’ variety have been rewarded with the posts of Home Secretary and foreign Secretary respectively, while former Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has been brought back into the Cabinet as Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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