Can Michael Gove solve the Defra puz­zle?

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country - Carla Passino

MICHAEL GOVE’S rep­u­ta­tion as a ‘Mar­mite char­ac­ter’ was re­flected by the re­ac­tions of ru­ral bod­ies—sur­prise, con­cern and en­thu­si­asm—to his ap­point­ment as Defra Sec­re­tary. Mr Gove has rarely been in­volved in ru­ral is­sues, but many be­lieve that his gen­uine pas­sion for change may serve him well in the de­part­ment that’s ar­guably most af­fected by Brexit. ‘Michael’s rep­u­ta­tion for deep thought and chal­lenge on ev­ery pol­icy area he has tack­led makes me con­fi­dent he will be an ef­fec­tive cham­pion,’ pre­dicts CLA pres­i­dent Ross Mur­ray.

NFU deputy pres­i­dent Minette Bat­ters is also pos­i­tive. She sug­gests that Mr Gove’s pre­de­ces­sor, An­drea Lead­som, didn’t al­ways pro­vide suf­fi­cient di­rec­tion. ‘He’s a big hit­ter,’ she points out. ‘Leav­ing the EU means we need to look at the agri­cul­tural sec­tor through a dif­fer­ent lens and we ex­pect Mr Gove to pro­vide lead­er­ship. He’ll have a lot to get to grips with, but he’ll be a fresh pair of eyes.’

The NFU and Na­tional Sheep As­so­ci­a­tion (NSA) want as­sur­ances that Mr Gove un­der­stands agri­cul­ture’s £8.5 bil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy and is pre­pared to up­hold Bri­tish farm­ing stan­dards. The NSA’S Phil Stocker re­mem­bers that, last year, Mr Gove men­tioned ac­cess to cheap food from abroad as a big ben­e­fit of Brexit: ‘That set alarm bells ring­ing. That can­not be some­one who re­ally un­der­stands the value of Bri­tish farm­ing. You can’t dis­count any­one for lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, but he needs to step up quickly and give us con­fi­dence. As Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, he didn’t have a great rep­u­ta­tion for lis­ten­ing. I’d like him to make a state­ment that he’ll try to en­sure that agri­cul­ture comes out of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions in a very strong po­si­tion.’

Mr Gove, who led the Leave cam­paign, has pre­vi­ously im­plied that Britain could with­draw from the sin­gle mar­ket, a view now up for dis­cus­sion in the light of the elec­tion re­sult. How­ever, he also sug­gested that the coun­try could re­main part of some kind of Euro­pean free-trade area and, last week, spoke of the need to cre­ate the ‘max­i­mum pos­si­ble con­sen­sus’ on Brexit.

‘[Mr Gove] could start by stat­ing that he would like us to have on­go­ing, tar­iff-free ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket,’ says Mr Stocker. Mrs Bat­ters adds two more re­quests: ‘Our sec­tor re­quires 80,000 sea­sonal work­ers, plus we need our per­ma­nent work­force—it’s vi­tal that those al­ready work­ing here can stay.’ She also wants Mr Gove to recog­nise the di­ver­sity of the Bri­tish land­scape and of farm­ers’ needs across the coun­try.

Not all en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ers are thrilled with Mr Gove’s ap­point­ment—he’s voted in favour of HS2, frack­ing and pri­vatis­ing forests and was em­broiled in a con­tro­versy over plans to move cli­mate change within the cur­ricu­lum.

‘We must hope that his at­ti­tude will un­dergo a U-turn,’ says Paul Knight of Sal­mon & Trout Con­ser­va­tion UK. ‘Plat­i­tudes about be­ing the green­est govern­ment ever will cut lit­tle ice un­less we see a gen­uine am­bi­tion to de­liver re­sults.’ Mr Knight wants post-brexit agri­cul­tural fund­ing to re­ward landown­ers for pro­tect­ing rivers from the ex­cess

‘Mr Gove will have a lot to get to grips with, but he’ll be a fresh pair of eyes’

sed­i­ment and nutri­ents that dam­age wa­ter life.

Oth­ers are more up­beat. ‘The coun­try­side needs a leader who can win ar­gu­ments. Michael Gove can do that,’ points out the GWCT’S An­drew Gilruth. ‘The fact he has said lit­tle about the en­vi­ron­ment re­cently is help­ful. his 2,000 staff are now free to brief him on ev­ery­thing from flood­ing to an­i­mal health so he can form his own view.’

Shaun Spiers of the Green Al­liance finds it en­cour­ag­ing to ‘hear Michael Gove talk about the coun­try­side as “one of our great­est as­sets” and pledg­ing to put those who make it beau­ti­ful “at the very heart of pol­icy mak­ing”. Pre­vi­ously, he had a ten­dency to talk about farm­land as if it was just empty space with de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial. It’s good to see him tak­ing a more rounded po­si­tion’.

Mr Spiers hopes Mr Gove will link agri­cul­tural fund­ing to pub­lic goods, such as al­le­vi­at­ing flood risk or pro­tect­ing Na­ture and spe­cial sites. ‘he has the power to set out a 25-year plan for Na­ture am­bi­tious enough to ful­fil his party’s aim that ours should be the first gen­er­a­tion to leave the en­vi­ron­ment in a bet­ter state than we found it. how­ever, he will have to fight his cor­ner to en­sure that the coun­try­side, food qual­ity and an­i­mal wel­fare are not sac­ri­ficed in post-brexit trade deals.’

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists also be­lieve there’s an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove leg­is­la­tion. The RSPB’S Martin harper sug­gests ‘fun­da­men­tally re­form­ing the farm­ing and fish­eries poli­cies’ and the CPRE’S Tom Fyans calls for a sub­stan­tial revamp of agri-en­vi­ron­ment schemes: ‘We’ve fo­cused for too long on max­imis­ing pro­duc­tion rather than en­hanc­ing food qual­ity. We must do much more for wildlife, soils and land­scapes.’ The Wildlife Trusts’ Stephanie hilborne adds: ‘Twothirds of our en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion de­rives from the eu and map­ping out a new ap­proach will re­quire ded­i­ca­tion.’

Mr Fyans con­cludes: ‘We must work with Mr Gove and, ul­ti­mately, judge him on how far he pro­tects our pre­cious coun­try­side.’

A fish out of wa­ter? The re­ac­tion to Michael Gove’s ap­point­ment as Defra Sec­re­tary has been mixed, with some coun­try­side lead­ers crit­i­cis­ing his past record and oth­ers prais­ing his pas­sion for change

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.