Michael Gove decides to stay at Defra – for now

Defra secretary Michael Gove says he is concentrating on the day job – despite speculation he was set to resign over Brexit.

Media reports suggested Mr Gove would become the third cabinet minister in two days to quit in protest at the EU withdrawal agreement.

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey both resigned on Thursday (15 November).

See also: Under fire – Gove’s Bexit plan for agriculture

Rumours suggest Mr Gove was offered the job of Brexit secretary but he turned it down.

In a statement on Friday (16 November), Mr Gove said: “I’ve had a very good morning in a series of meetings with my colleagues here at Defra, just making sure that we have the right policies on the environment, on farming and on fisheries for the future.

“And I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with all my government colleagues, and all my colleagues in parliament in order to make sure that we get the best future for Britain.

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people, we can get a good outcome.”

Crucial time

A departure would have come at a crucial time for UK farmers – with the government’s Agriculture Bill making its way through parliament.

The bill sets out the government’s plans for the industry after Brexit – including plans to phase out direct payments to farmers.

The government wants to replace direct payments with a new system largely based on rewarding farmers for undertaking environmental measures.

Mr Gove is already the fourth Defra secretary in less than five years at a time when many in the industry believe the sector needs continuity.

‘Wrong time to change’

Cumbrian dairy farmer and First Milk director Robert Craig said it was right Mr Gove should stay in his post.

“We need the continuity, vision and stability he’s brought to Defra – exactly the wrong time to change,” said Mr Craig.

There is ongoing concern, however, that Mr Gove is prioritising environmental measures at the expense of food production.

Shadow Defra secretary Sue Hayman has described the Agriculture Bill as a “huge missed opportunity”.

It contained no targets for environmental improvement, she said, or for healthy, home-grown affordable food production in a post-Brexit world.