Boris Johnson makes sweeping changes to top green jobs in government ahead of crucial year for UK's net zero strategy and COP26 preparations
Andrea Leadsom has been sacked as Business Secretary and Theresa Villiers is to be replaced at the helm of Defra, as Boris Johnson looks to promote new Ministers to drive the UK's net zero strategy, COP26 preparations, and post-Brexit environmental policy framework.
Leadsom, who has been in post at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) since Johnson first became Prime Minister last July, confirmed this morning she would now be heading to the backbenches after six years in government.
The MP for South Northamptonshire and former Environment Secretary, who twice ran to be Prime Minister in consecutive Conservative leadership contests, confirmed on Twitter that she would be leaving government, writing that "it has been a real privilege to serve in Government for the last six years, and in @Beisgovuk for six months". She added that she was "particularly proud" of her work at BEIS leading the government's net zero plans and preparations for the Glasgow climate summit in November.
I'm particularly proud of my work in BEIS on net zero and the #CountDowntoCOP and on making the U.K. the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. Huge thanks to my brilliant team in @BEISGovUK (2/)— Andrea Leadsom MP (@andrealeadsom) February 13, 2020
Leadsom had faced some criticism from enviroinmental groups during her stints as Energy Minister, Environment Secretary, and Business Secretary, with critics accusing her of failing to push forward sufficiently ambitious green policy programmes. However, in the past six months she has repeatedly stressed that the pursuit of the UK's net zero target should be the top priority for BEIS and she is known to have been working on a raft of new decarbonisation policies as part of the upcoming Energy Whitepaper and wider net zero strategy.
She had been name-checked as a potential successor to ousted COP26 President Claire O'Neill, but it now seems Johnson will look elsewhere to fill the crucial post with Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove widely regarded as the frontrunner. Zac Goldsmith, who was handed a peerage and appointed to the government last month after losing his Parliamentary seat in December's General Election, has also been tipped for the role.
Leadsom is thought to have clashed with O'Neill over the two-week summit, and the latter has since been fiercely critical of the government's logistical and diplomatic preparations, painting a picture of disarray and confusion in Westminster with just nine months to go until the event kicks off in Glasgow.
But Leadsom will now be joined on the backbenches by Villiers, after the MP for Chipping Barnet was also ditched as Environment Secretary this morning. Both ministers had been in post for little more than six months.
Villiers, a former Northern Ireland Secretary, confirmed the news in a lengthy post on her Facebook page, in which she highlighted her work developing the government's flagship post-Brexit green policy frameworks the Environment, Agriculture, and Fisheries Bills.
"While my time at Defra was short, I am proud that under my leadership, we published the most important Environment Bill for decades, setting out a world leading framework to protect nature, improve air quality and tackle plastics pollution; we published an Agriculture Bill with environmental goals at its heart; and a Fisheries Bill which will take back control of our waters and start to reverse the betrayal of our fishing communities which took place when we joined the EU," she wrote.
Villiers added that she was "sad to no longer be part" of the cabinet but that would "continue to campaign to protect nature and address disastrous climate change" from the backbenches.
In other developments a number of Ministers with green economy-related roles have confirmed they are leaving government. Science and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore posted a photo of his baby daughter on Twitter, stating that he now had "more time to spend with this gorgeous little one". Similarly, Esther McVey also used Twitter to confirm she had been "relieved of my duties as Housing Minister", while Nusrat Ghani said it had been a "huge privilege to have been Transport Minister and we've achieved so much In 2 years".
George Freeman, the MP for Mid Norfolk, has also been sacked from the Department for Transport, where he had served as Minister for Transport Technology and Innovation. Freeman said it had been a "huge privilege" to help shape the government's Future of Transport strategy, a role which had seen him play a key part in driving efforts to support the rollout of electric vehicles.
Johnson is expected to announce a wave of Ministerial promotions throughout the day. However, earlier speculation that Number 10 could undertake major machinery of government changes and revive the Department of Energy and Climate Change appear to be wide of the mark.
In related news elsewhere, meanwhile, former Labour MP for Great Grimsby, Melanie Onn has been appointed deputy chief executive at clean energy trade body RenewableUK, after having lost her Parliamentary seat in December's General Election.
Onn said she wanted to "champion the wide range of clean technologies we'll need to accelerate the UK's successful transition to net zero".
"The transition to a net zero economy is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to create new industries and jobs," she said. "I only need to look at my hometown of Grimsby, where investment in offshore wind is playing a major role in starting to revitalise the local economy and supporting regeneration."
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