After being entreated by the Prime Minister to learn about loyalty on the backbenches when he was fired by her last year, Michael Gove duly responded to that call. His efforts in the media to demonstrate that loyalty have paid off, with a return to the Cabinet as Environment Secretary. A principled Brexiteer whose close relationship with Cameron and Osborne was damaged by his decision to support Vote Leave, Gove often singled out the Common Fisheries Policy as an example of the EU’s damaging influence – his father’s business in Aberdeen having been undermined by that particular policy. Now as Environment Secretary, he will be responsible for the UK’s position on fisheries and farming.
Gove’s new role in charge of DEFRA gives him the difficult tasks of ensuring all relevant EU energy and environmental regulations are transposed into UK law following Brexit, releasing the much-delayed 25-Year Plan for the environment, as well as producing a final version of the government’s air quality plan due to be delivered by 31st July.
The announcement of his appointment has caused immediate concern amongst environmentalists. Tom Burke, from the Think Tank e3g, told the BBC: “The environment is something voters really care about.” “If the Tories really want to reconnect with the youth surge, this is about the worst option they could have chosen”, a sentiment shared by Caroline Lucas, the Green party co-leader and MP, who said it was hard to “think of many politicians as ill-equipped for the role of environment secretary as Michael Gove”.
Gove’s personal views on environmental issues have remained relatively unknown; apprehension around his appointment instead stems predominantly from a few key policy suggestions. As education secretary, he attempted to remove global warming from the geography school curriculum – though he insisted the motivation was to move it over to the science curriculum. He also spoke out about EU rules regarding the development of new homes in environmentally sensitive areas. Gove said that regulations under the EU’s Habitats Directive should be scrapped because they “increase costs and regulatory burdens”, despite the rules being in place to protect wildlife.
While Gove has been absent in many votes relating to environmental issues, in the measures he did vote in, he overwhelmingly voted against efforts to protect the environment. In 2012 he voted against requiring the UK Green Investment Bank to explicitly act in support of the target of reducing UK carbon emissions to 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050; in 2013 he voted against requiring the setting of a target range for the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of electricity generated; and in 2016 he voted not to reduce the permitted carbon dioxide emission rate of new homes as part of the Housing and Planning Bill.
H+K Strategies Public Affairs – London