Positive signs on the environment from new PM’s appointments

It’s early days yet, but there are some initial positive signs for environmental policy in the new prime minister’s governmental appointments, says Matthew Farrow.

To say that Boris Johnson has hit the ground running as the new prime minister is something of an understatement. We’ve seen a brutal cabinet makeover, the recall of controversial Vote Leave adviser Dominic Cummings and a barnstorming House of Commons performance – and that was just the highlights of the first 24 hours. But, what might the new administration mean for the environment and climate policy?  

Theresa Villiers as the new environment secretary is a strong Brexiteer and someone who has a mixed record on the environment. She voted in favour of establishing the Green Investment Bank but against it being required to align its investment with the Climate Change Act targets. Likewise, she opposed Heathrow expansion on environmental grounds, but has been relaxed over fracking. Within Defra, Therese Coffey, whom we know, stays and is promoted to minister of state, while George Eustice, who spoke at the EIC’s recent parliamentary reception and knows EIC’s Michael Lunn very well, has returned to Defra also as minister of state.

Michael Gove meanwhile becomes the prime minister’s right-hand man and, according to the media, his ‘enforcer’ across government. While Gove will be preoccupied by Brexit and possible election preparations, I don’t think he would allow Villiers to substantially roll back the ambitions he has set out for the environment bill and Defra policy more generally. Meanwhile at BEIS, while Claire Perry relinquishing the energy and climate portfolio is unfortunate, the fact that she is doing so to take the lead on the UK’s hosting of COP26 next year bodes well.

And what of the new prime minister himself? Brexit and parliamentary politics will be his short-term priorities alongside an enthusiasm for innovation and technology (which might play into EIC’s work on innovation and the 25-year environment plan). In September EIC will be holding a roundtable discussion for members with one of Boris’s advisers from his mayor of London days, which will provide some useful insights into how we can best work with the new Number Ten incumbent and his team.

Matthew Farrow is director of the Environmental Industries Commission, the leading trade body for environmental firms. 

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