George Eustice has been appointed as Defra Secretary, replacing Theresa Villiers, who was sacked this morning after just six months in the role.
The Cornish MP, who first became a junior Minister at Defra in 2013 and has held the rank of Minister since 2015, will arrive with vast experience of the brief, having played a big part in developing Defra’s post-Brexit agricultural policy.
He will certainly bring much-needed stability to the post and the farming industry will be hoping he can bring the sort of clout and influence to the Cabinet table brought by his predecessor-but-one, Michael Gove.
Mr Eustice returned to Defra in July after quitting his Ministerial role at the Department a few months earlier in protest at the Government’s Brexit policy. In his resignation letter in February, he said he feared Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer of votes on delaying Brexit could lead to the ‘final humiliation of our country’.
Speaking at an All-Party Parliamentary Committee for Eggs, Pigs and Poultry meeting in October 2018, he gave strong reassurances on the issue of post-Brexit import standards.
“I could not be clearer that we will not water down our standards on animal and animal welfare in pursuit of a trade deal,” he said.
“No Government would entertain trade deals in the years ahead that will be able to disregard the concerns of Parliament in this area. In some issues, such as chlorine washed chicken or hormone-treated beef, it would require repeal of domestic legislation before such a course could even be entertained,” he said.
His family run a herd of South Devon cattle and the country’s oldest herd of the rare breed of pig, the British Lop. Mr Eustice recently launched a new initiative on his farm to preserve the British Lop.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the appointment.
“We would like to warmly congratulate George on his promotion. He brings welcome continuity to the post, arriving with great knowledge of the farming industry and, importantly, a clear understanding of the complex brief,” she said.
“We look forward to working with him on the hugely important agenda ahead of us and hope that he will be a strong voice across Government in fighting for the interests of the pig sector and wider farming industry.”
NFU President Minette Batters congratulated Mr Eustice on his appointment and said she looked forward to working with him to help pave the way for a thriving food and farming sector post-Brexit.
Mrs Batters said that the Secretary of State’s support will be crucial as British farming faces new opportunities and challenges in life outside the EU, and will play a key part in ensuring Britain’s food values are not compromised in future trade deals.
She said: “British farming is among the best in the world at producing safe, traceable and nutritious food and I look forward to working with the new Secretary of State to position British food and farming as a global leader in sustainable, high quality, climate-friendly food.
“George Eustice is well respected within the farming community for his knowledge and understanding of farming but also his hard work as a Minister in Defra over the past six years. I hope to welcome him on to my farm very soon to further discuss British farming’s potential as we start a life outside of the EU.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: “We warmly welcome Mr George Eustice to his role at this pivotal time for British agriculture. As a long-standing Farming Minister, he will know the scale of the challenge ahead. We will work closely with him to help achieve the full potential of the rural economy.”
The appointment was also welcomed by the Food and Drink Federation. Its chief executive, Ian Wright, congratulated Mr Eustice on his elevation.
“George has been a fantastic advocate for the UK’s food and drink manufacturers. We are pleased he will bring a deep understanding of the sector and our priorities to the role,” he said.
“The FDF and our members look forward to continuing our close work together to maximise the industry’s potential through trade, exporting, skills and sustainable growth.”