New environment secretary appointed at crucial time for farming industry

PUBLISHED: 18:08 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 18:08 13 February 2020

George Eustice as been appointed as the new environment secretary in the prime minister's post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle. Picture: Keiron Tovell

George Eustice as been appointed as the new environment secretary in the prime minister's post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle. Picture: Keiron Tovell

Kieron Tovell

The appointment of George Eustice as environment secretary has been welcomed by farming leaders in East Anglia, who hope his industry expertise will prove valuable at a crucial time for agriculture.

Mr Eustice was appointed secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs after his predecessor Theresa Villiers was sacked in the prime minister's post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle. She had held the position for less than seven months.

The promoted secretary of state comes from a farming background in Cornwall, where his family still run a fruit farm, restaurant and farm shop, along with a herd of South Devon cattle and the country's oldest herd of the rare breed of pig, the British Lop.

His association with Defra stretches back to 2013, first as a parliamentary under-secretary and then as agriculture minister from May 2015.

Farming leaders in East Anglia said this experience would be vital as farming faces its biggest policy change for a generation following Britain's departure from the EU and its subsidy and regulatory regimes - to be replaced by the UK's new Agriculture Bill which was only re-introduced to parliament by Ms Villiers last month.

Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: "This is a crucial time for the industry so it is helpful that the new secretary of state has a good level of knowledge and experience of our sector.

"The NFU has a good working relationship with George Eustice and we look forward to continuing this in his new role."

Cath Crowther, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said: "We warmly welcome Mr 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 new environment secretary was appointed on the same day as the Norfolk Farming Conference in Norwich - an event Mr Eustice has previously spoken at as farming minister in 2016 and 2018.

At this year's event, Sir Peter Kendall, chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, said some continuity was urgently needed at Defra.

"If Theresa Villiers moves on, then before I leave the AHDB at the end of March I will have seen my tenth incumbent at Defra in 14 years," said Sir Peter. "For a long-term complex department covering farming and the environment I view this as a chronic failure of government, and we desperately need some leadership and continuity as we enter this unprecedented period of change in farming."

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