Michael Gove's appointment as Environment Secretary: A return to frontline politics
After a spell on the sidelines Michael Gove is back on the frontbench of Theresa May's cabinet as Environment Secretary, but what does this mean for the agricultural sector?
Michael Gove has replaced Andrea Leadsom as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as part of a shake-up of Theresa May's cabinet. This could have wide-ranging consequences for the agricultural sector and a look back at some of Gove's views and voting record in key areas could act as a signal for the potential changes to come.
Although Gove is yet to comment directly on the increasingly important issue of migrant labour shortages, the Cabinet Minister has as recently as 19 June 2017 advocated to keep the door open to EU migrants after Brexit, saying that 'nobody wants zero migration'. How this stance will align with the growing need of farmers to source labour remains to be seen.
In an interview with the Daily Mail in April 2016 before the European Union ("EU") referendum, Michael Gove said that leaving the EU could provide British consumers with cheap food as a result of trade deals with emerging nations. This could potentially open the British market to lower quality, lower welfare food imports, raising the need to balance the desire for cheap food with the need to shore up the UK's self-sufficiency in food. Since the outcome of the referendum this necessity was recognised by Gove who said at the Royal Three Counties Show 2017 that he has "absolutely no intention of allowing any of the protections which are currently in place, which ensure that the consumer has high-quality food and that farmers are encouraged to invest in maintaining very high standards, to be undermined."
Common Agricultural Policy ("CAP" – EU Agricultural Subsidies)
Addressing a meeting in Parliament on 20 June 2017 organised by the National Farmers' Union, Gove said that leaving the EU was a chance to remove and replace "inefficient subsidies" with a better form of financial support for farmers. At this juncture it is unclear what sorts of financial payments will be made to farmers if the UK leaves the EU, nor how the UK will fund these payments.
Buying and Procuring British Food
In 2006 Gove supported the 'Local Food is Miles Better' campaign for supermarkets to promote, stock and label locally produced food because it ‘helps consumers reconnect with farmers, is good for the environment, boosts the economy and supports British farming’.
As recently as February 2017, the Brexiteer expressed his desire to abolish the Habitats Directive to make way for rural homes. Gove claims that the EU rules on building new homes in environmentally sensitive areas should be scrapped to have more affordable houses built.
On 14 July 2015 Gove voted to apply tax on non-domestic electricity supplies known as the 'Climate Change Levy' to electricity generated from renewable sources. Gove supports the policy objective behind the amendment to the Finance Act 2000 which seeks to recoup the £1.28 billion in relief granted to overseas renewable electricity suppliers, of whom some are already in receipt of comparable subsidies in their own country.
Gove has a mixed record on fracking, having voted against requiring an environment permit for fracking activities, but also for a more extensive set of conditions to be met before consent for fracking is given.
Gove's appointment has already garnered praise and criticism from a range of political and lobbyist groups and his reputation as a zealous reformer, coupled with his hard Brexit stance, will likely mean significant developments in the agricultural sector.