Steve Barclay has replaced Thérèse Coffey as Defra Secretary, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reshuffles his Cabinet, following the sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.
The MP for North East Cambridgeshire moves to Defra from the role of Health Secretary as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle that also saw former Prime Minister David Cameron make a surprise return to Government as Foreign Secretary.
He became Health Secretary in July 2022 and, after a brief time out of the role during Liz Truss’s brief rein, was re-appointed to the position in October 2022, as part of Mr Sunak’s new Government. He was previously appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office between 15 September 2021 and July 2022, and was Brexit Secretary from November 2018 to September 2021.
Mr Barclay said he was ‘delighted’ to be appointed as Defra Secretary. “I’ll be working to back British farming and fishingm champion rural communities and protect the environment. As an MP for a rural area I know how important these issues are to many people up and down our country,” he said.
In her resignation letter, Ms Coffey, who was in China last week, aiming to bolster UK food and drink exports and promote international cooperation on environmental and wildlife issues, said in her resignation letter that she has ‘strengthened the foundations for Defra to deliver here in the UK and globally, such that this Government has achieved more than any other to protect our planet’.
“Having a sustainable food and farming sector is critical for our long term food security and, by listening to farmers and making changes, I am confident we can deliver that sustainability and strengthen both our farming and fishing sectors,” she added
Ms Coffey was only in the role for just over a year, having briefly served as Health Secretary under Liz Truss and Work and Pensions Secretary for three years prior to that. Before entering the Cabinet, she held Ministerial roles at Defra.
She endured a mixed ride during her time as Defra Secretary, coming in for heavy criticism over her role in the sewage scandal and famously clashing with NFU president Minette Batters at this year’s NFU Conference.
She did not leave a huge impression on the pig sector, although during her time, progress has been made with the review of contractual practice in the pig sector. During her trip to China last week, she raised the issue of the ongoing suspension of China export licences at two key UK pork plants.
In her resignation letter, she added: “I look forward to supporting you from the backbenches and working together for a Conservative majority at the next election, which I believe to be profoundly in the national interest.”
NFU President Minette Batters said: “I’d like to thank Thérèse Coffey for her work as Defra Secretary of State over the past year.
“It is a challenging time for many farmers and growers, and I look forward to working with Steve Barclay to help secure a positive future for British food and farming.”
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) welcomed Mr Barclay’s appointment and urged him to continue to push for progress in China.
“Just last week, the former Defra lead was in China visiting the Food & Hospitality show in Shanghai, and we wondered whether she’s be able to help open this valuable market for exports of beef, lamb and poultry. It’s now down to him to secure these new business opportunities across the globe and we wish them well,” said AIMS spokesperson Tony Goodger.
“It is also essential that the new Secretary of State addresses industry concerns over issues such as access to labour and barriers to overseas market, some of which have been established by the UK Government themselves.”
New Country Land and Business Association President Victoria Vyvyan also welcomed Mr Barclay to his new role and it is vital he ‘hits the ground running’.
“Farmers, landowners and rural businesses are dynamic and forward-thinking, helping to feed the nation, create jobs, build homes, fight climate change and look after the environment. With the right support and ambition the full potential of the countryside can be unlocked,” she said.