New Defra Secretary confirmed as Villiers is ousted

Prime Minister Boris Johnston has appointed a new Defra Secretary today after Theresa Villiers was ousted from the role just six months after she took it on.

Villers was appointed as Defra Secretary at the end of July 2019 but lost the job in a reshuffle this morning.

Nine politicians have held the role since it was created in 2001 with former Farming Minister George Eustice to become the next.

Previous office-holders in the last decade include:

  • Michael Gove (June 2017 – July 2019);
  • Andrea Leadsom (July 2016 – June 2017);
  • Liz Truss (July 2014 – June 2017);
  • Owen Paterson (September 2012 – July 2014);
  • Caroline Spelman (May 2010 – September 2012).

As part of his new job, Eustice will have overall responsibility for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The role’s specific responsibilities include departmental administration, handling emergencies, international relations, and oversight of Brexit work and post-EU policy programme.

Eustice previously held the role of Farming Minister but resigned from Theresa May’s government in March 2019 following the decision to allow a vote on the postponement of Brexit should MPs reject May’s revised deal.

The decision was seen as a “major disappointment” to many in the industry.

‘The Prime Minister taketh’

Villiers’ most controversial agricultural policies included her proposals to ban the live export of farm animals. At the time, the National Sheep Association said the move demonstrated “a serious lack of knowledge”.

In a statement, the former Defra Secretary said: “What the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister taketh away: Just over six months ago, I was delighted to be invited by the Prime Minister to return to government after three years on the backbenches.

This morning, he told me that I need to make way for someone new.

“I am deeply grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve twice at the highest level of Government, first as Northern Ireland Secretary and then as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I tackled both roles with passion, commitment, and huge amounts of hard work.”

Villiers said protecting nature has been one of her priorities throughout her time as MP.

“While my time at Defra was short, I am proud that under my leadership, we published the most important Environment Bill for decades, setting out a world-leading framework to protect nature, improve air quality and tackle plastics pollution; we published an Agriculture Bill with environmental goals at its heart; and a Fisheries Bill which will take back control of our waters and start to reverse the betrayal of our fishing communities which took place when we joined the EU,” she said.

“I also played my part in drafting a Conservative manifesto with stronger commitments on the environment than ever before, including the most ambitious programme any government has ever proposed on planting millions of trees.

I have driven forward animal welfare improvements and during my tenure at Defra, this government has made a commitment to end the live export of animals for slaughter. We are also banning imports of trophies hunted from endangered animals.

“I have championed our farmers and secured a five-year guarantee from the Chancellor on maintaining the farm support which is so vital to helping them produce the high quality, high welfare food which sustains us.

“I have spoken out strongly on the importance of ensuring our trade policy does not compromise our high standards of food safety, animal welfare or environmental protection. I remain determined to ensure that our farmers are not undercut by food imports produced to lower welfare standards than ours here in the UK.

“Whether it is in the Cabinet, in Parliament, or in any other walk of life, if there is one thing we should all strive for, it is to safeguard our natural environment for future generations.

From the backbenches, I shall continue to campaign to protect nature and address disastrous climate change, as well as fighting hard on all the other crucial issues which matter to my constituents in Chipping Barnet.

“I wish the Prime Minister and his new Cabinet well in the tasks ahead of them. I am sad to no longer be part of that team, but they will have my full support as they take forward Boris’ bold agenda to unite and level up every part of this great country.”