Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appointed Cornish MP George Eustice, a pro-Brexit former farming minister, as new Environment Secretary. Eustice has been described as a “real countryman” but has a patchy voting record on climate action.
He has been given the role after working as a junior minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) since 2015.
So, unlike some ministers taking up new roles today, he will already be well acquainted with the issues and debates associated with the brief. He replaces Theresa Villiers, who was removed during the morning’s ministerial cull.
At Defra, Eustice will oversee a range of issues relating to the environment and the countryside, including agriculture, flooding and forestry.
He is likely to be a popular appointment with Conservative MPs and farmers – he comes from a farming family – but less so with environmentalists, many of whom are concerned about the weakening of UK environmental law and regulations in the aftermath of Brexit.
Eustice was immediately welcomed by Wales’ Shadow Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs, Conservative Andrew Davies, who tweeted that the MP has been a “first-class rural affairs and farming minister”.
The CLA, an organisation representing rural land owners, has hailed him as “key ally” for the farming industry. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) celebrated the appointment of a “real countryman”, under whom it anticipates a bright future for shooting.
These endorsements will not be reassuring to environmentalists, who are concerned about the impact of farming in particular on biodiversity and the ability of the UK’s soil and vegetation to sequester carbon dioxide – a key component in tackling climate change.
According to a Guardian database, Eustice has one of the weakest records on climate change among MPs, scoring 0 percent thanks to his total absence of pro-environment votes. It also notes that he received a donation of £5,000 in 2015 from Neil Record, a director of the Global Warming Policy Forum.
On Twitter, Green MP Caroline Lucas highlighted Eustice’s poor record when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, including voting down 14 measures to tackle the problem.
But Craig Bennett, the outgoing director of Friends of the Earth, tweeted his congratulations to Eustice, stressing that there is “a lot to do,” including strengthening the agriculture, fisheries and environment bills to ensure continued protection for the UK’s landscape and biodiversity in the wake of Brexit.
Eustice is pro-Brexit and has, in the past, criticised the EU’s “spirit-crushing” directives. In an interview in 2016, before the referendum that ultimately led to the UK’s exit from the EU, he expressed his hope that money freed up by Brexit could go towards insurance schemes and incentives for farmers, and that the birds and habitats directives would be scrapped.
Eustice also took part in an antler throwing competition during a trip to Latvia in 2015. There is a video.
Sophie Yeo is a freelance environmental journalist based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. This article first appeared at DeSmog.uk.
Image. UK Parliament.