Two weeks into Brexit and a world that has shifted on its axis, politicians have been jostling for new positions and direction. Catherine Paice reports
Oxford graduate Teresa May (Con, Maidenhead) was racing towards victory as the new Conservative leader, as Farm Business went to press, with six in 10 Conservatives backing her ahead of the first of three leadership ballots on Tuesday.
There were some difficult choices for countryside-orientated Tory MPs. Everyone loves a winner, and evidently no-one more so than the DEFRA secretary of state, Liz Truss (South-West Norfolk). Having campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, she quickly came out solidly and publicly (in the Daily Telegraph on 28th June) in support of lead Brexiter Boris Johnson (Uxbridge and South Ruislip). Two days later the Gove-Johnson ‘Dream Team’ crashed, leaving Johnson bleeding by the roadside, and despite having professed strong admiration for the “radical instincts and tough negotiating skills needed to deliver for Britain” of Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), her education colleague during the coalition, she hedged her bets again and plumped for Ms May. It’s hard not to wonder if Ms Truss will keep a cabinet role at all, let alone progress to a more ‘desirable’ department.
Brexiter and DEFRA food and farming minister George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) quickly declared his support for Mr Gove, claiming he was the one to “deliver the future” the country voted for. Mr Eustice – who worked alongside Mr Gove on David Cameron’s 2005 leadership bid – admitted that he had taken “a few days to reflect on events”.
On the 11-strong EFRA parliamentary committee, most had not made up their minds on Monday, although energy minister and Brexit supporter Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) gained the support of EFRA chair Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton), a Johnson backer, and Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) struck out on his own as one of the relative few to back fellow Welshman Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire). Other Leadsom supporters included another former DEFRA secretary of state, Owen Paterson (North Shropshire), who also originally backed Boris Johnson.
In the middle of the leadership furore, Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) not only stepped down from her role as shadow DEFRA secretary – to be replaced by Rachael Maskell (York) – but tabled a volley of written questions for the department, asking Ms Truss for an assessment of the effect of Brexit on rural payments, fisheries, food manufacturing, air pollution, water pollution, protection of species and habitats, and waste management. The answers could be some time coming.