Michael Gove has been appointed as secretary of state at DEFRA, prompting major concerns amongst environmental campaigners and opposition MPs.
In a surprise return to the front bench, Gove will take the lead on pressing issues such as air pollution, the reform of agricultural subsidies post-Brexit and food waste. Not to mention longer term challenges such as climate change and food security.
“I was quite surprised, I have to say ... I genuinely didn’t expect this role,” Gove told Sky News. “I want to do everything I can to make sure we pass on the environment in a stronger condition to the next generation."
But critics pointed to his tendency to vote against measures to prevent climate change. Social media has been awash with stories of Gove’s time as education secretary, when he reportedly tried to remove climate change from the geography curriculum.
It’s not clear whether Gove is a “climate change denier”, as some headlines have suggested. However, he’s certainly got his work cut out convincing his doubters wrong. Greenpeace said he’d need to “move swiftly to prove that he’s better than his record suggests”.
Ed Davey, the liberal democrat MP and former energy and climate change secretary, said it is bad news. “I didn’t think it could get any worse but putting Michael Gove in charge of the environment is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”
Green Party co-leader and MP Caroline Lucas said it was hard to think of many politicians as “ill-equipped” for the role of environment secretary as Gove. “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,” she said.
The Food and Drink Federation welcomed the news. “It’s a big boost that the prime minister has appointed one of the cabinet’s heaviest hitters to a ministry so significantly at the heart of Brexit,” said the organisation’s director-general Ian Wright.
Gove has a “natural inclination to reduce regulation” according to some observers, which will appeal to the likes of the FDF.