Last reviewed 14 November 2023

The Prime Minister (PM) has announced Steve Barclay as the new Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), following the earlier resignation of Thérèse Coffey.

The former Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, has been appointed as Defra Secretary following the PM’s cabinet reshuffle and the resignation of Thérèse Coffey. Former Junior Minister Victoria Atkins will take over from Steve Barclay as the new Health and Social Care Secretary.

Barclay has been North East Cambridgeshire MP since 2010 and has served in cabinet under both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, having first been appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union by Theresa May in 2018.

In terms of his environmental credentials, Barclay has “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change”, including not supporting the Scottish National Party’s (SNP’s) proposals of doing more in respect of climate change and voting to exempt taxation and spending from those policy areas where ministers would be required to have due regard to environmental policy.

Commenting on the new appointment, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Victoria Vyvyan, said: “It is vital Mr Barclay hits the ground running.”

“Environmental Land Management schemes are being rolled out, BPS is being cut, rural communities are being hit hard by the cost of living crisis, and persistently low economic productivity is hampering our businesses and workers,” she added.

Thérèse Coffey was Defra Secretary for just over a year in what has been a turbulent time for the department, particularly over the handling of the release of raw sewage into rivers, lakes and coastal waters and more recently Coffey’s response to the problem.

In her resignation letter to the PM, Coffey said: “As you know, Defra touches so much of our lives. It is the voice and guardian of nature, food security and our countryside communities. Just in the last year, I was pleased to publish our Environmental Improvement Plan, launch our Plan for Water, and help to secure the Global Biodiversity Framework in Montreal and the fund to deliver it.”

Barclay becomes the fifth Secretary of State for the Environment in just four years — a department that many see as challenging, given its far-reaching remit covering environmental protection, farming, water quality and waste management, where urgent action is needed.

Paul de Zylva, Nature Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Steve Barclay is picking up a brief that has been neglected throughout the majority of his party’s time in office — there is a lot of lost time to make up for.”

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, urged the new Environment Secretary to “act immediately to put the UK back on track to meet its environmental and climate commitments”.