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Ed's Brexit round-up - an eventful 72 hours

26th Jul 2019 / By Alistair Driver

You could say it has been an eventful 72 hours.

EdBarkerNPAThe long and drawn out process as to who is to become our next Prime Minister finished abruptly, and as soon as that result had been processed, our new man in No 10 swiftly set about installing his new Cabinet team. Much uncertainty had remained over how many changes there would be – would there be an aim to try and heal divisions in the party or achieve broad consensus?

As the events of Wednesday were starting to unfold, it was very clear that the Cabinet, Government Departments, and back office staff would resemble the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign more than anything. Any Ministers loyal to Jeremy Hunt were abruptly sacked, along with Mr Hunt who turned down a demotion from his role as Foreign Secretary. Others such as Rory Stewart jumped before they could be pushed, and it was perhaps no surprise to any of us that Boris’ loyal spokespeople throughout the campaign were rewarded with top jobs.

Theresa in, Gove out

In Defra, there were changes as expected. Despite his public pronouncements that he would like to stay, Michael Gove has been moved elsewhere within Cabinet office and our 6th Defra Secretary of State in 7 years is Theresa Villiers. An interesting choice who conforms to the Brexiteer mould that the PM so sought, she once served as Transport and Northern Ireland SoS – so used to dealing with tricky departments with much going on. Representing that rural seat of Barnet, we do know she has taken an active interest in animal welfare issues, often citing NGO material.

That said, she also has backed the badger cull and has been supportive of hunting, usually the antithesis for any politician. Despite her interests in animal welfare, she has been vocal on not lowering standards for imported goods as part of a trade deal and for us not to export production abroad through welfare changes – so it is an interesting picture. Most interestingly of all, she was a patron of the Conservative animal welfare foundation. So too is Carrie Symonds, Mr Johnson’s partner, who has been an animal and environmental campaigner for many years. Many newspapers have already speculated her hand in driving some policy – denied by No 10.

On his acceptance speech, the PM stated animal welfare would be one of his (many) policy focuses; a ban on live animals for export was one he identified rapidly throughout the leadership campaign – and it is something that Theresa Villiers has campaigned on frequently in the past. Perhaps this will be his flagship policy – time will tell.

George returns, new job for Liz

Meanwhile – it was confirmed that George Eustice, who quit Government in Spring because of the way it was handling Brexit is now once again a Minister, likely to pick up the farming brief again. It is positive that we have someone who can hit the ground running and knows the key issues, though a sense of disappointment that we lost Robert Goodwill (Eustice’s replacement) who clearly understood the issues and nuances around ASF so very well.

And finally, Liz Truss, a former SoS at Defra has now landed the top job at the Department for International Trade. Given her knowledge and interest in exports of pork to China – and her very pig dense constituency (SW Norfolk), this could be a positive move for us.

A final note – a lot of people in Westminster and media are getting very excited. However, it is important to stress that nothing on the parliamentary arithmetic has changed. The Government’s majority is wafer thin (it could be less after some upcoming by elections) and it will take very little to destabilise Government policy from either the DUP or anti ‘no deal’ conservative MPs. But with Labour in hardly the best of places – it is yet to be seen what the autumn will throw at us.

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