Gove is providing some sort of stability- for now

Written by: Ieva Asnina | Published:

Our Government saw no fewer than nine ministerial resignations over Brexit in 2018.

With each one, an increasingly large question mark hung over Michael Gove’s future as environment secretary.

Theresa May offering him the Brexit Secretary position would not have eased the anxiety of those who would like to see him stay, although his loyalty to delivering the Brexit he campaigned for means it would have been entirely plausible for him to make the move.

Yet whether for fear of damaging his political career at DExEU or his genuine concern for the planet, he decided to stay at Defra – for the time being.

No guarantees

Since Hilary Benn (2007-2010), no environment secretary has lasted more than two years in the role. Gove has generally been viewed favourably, a stark contrast to how many teachers perceived him as education secretary.

However, he has made no secret of his desire to lead the country as Prime Minister someday, and May has declared that she will not lead the Conservatives into the next general election. It’s more a matter of ‘when’ he will leave the role than ‘if’.

He has done a good job of raising the profile of his current department’s policy areas and been at the forefront of flagship policies like the Environment Bill and the Resources and Waste Strategy, and his Cabinet influence will be essential if he is to deliver the ‘green Brexit’ he has promised.

Flagship policies

The Resources and Waste Strategy, which outlines Defra’s plans to make the UK more resource-efficient and reduce waste, has been largely welcomed by industry experts, with many praising its ambition.

The positive reaction will feed well into Gove’s political capital, which he will need in spades if he is to mount a bid to become Prime Minister.

However, there have been some disgruntled observations about the amount of pending consultations, some expected to open in 2019 while others not until as late as 2020. But with the Government liaising with industry through these consultations, it gives confidence that the wider Environment Bill, expected to be published in September this year, will also deliver.

When the Environment Bill was announced, Gove assured the public that the core environmental principles will remain central to Government policy and decision-making.

The draft version published in December saw the “polluter pays” principle put into legal guidance. This is a huge step for the UK’s environmental policy as it leaves the EU, given that the majority of our environmental policy currently comes from Brussels.

A new tax on single-use plastic packaging which has less than 30% recycled plastic content, and plans to increase the plastic carrier bag charge to 10p across all stores in England, are other measures Gove has personally championed, with the hope being that the revised recycling targets set by the EU for 2025 and 2030 will be matched or even exceeded.

There have even been promises of a post-Brexit watchdog that could take ministers to court over environmental failings, and while it remains to be seen how truly independent it will be, it appears as though we are entering a new era of transparency and environmental responsibility under Gove’s stewardship.

What next?

With so many ministerial positions and departments in a state of flux, some stability in key domestic policy areas concerning environment and sustainability could be helpful; but where Gove’s long-term future lies is far from clear.

Ieva Asnina is an account executive at PLMR

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