Cabinet reshuffle and COP26 president (re)announced

17th February 2020

There were big changes in Westminster last week – and you would be forgiven for finding it hard to keep up. Many of the ministers replaced had only been in post for 6 months, after Boris’ reshuffle in July last year.

While the biggest news of the day was Sajid Javid’s resignation, of most significance to us in the HE/FE sustainability sector, is the announcement of COP26 president, and the change of Environment Minister and Universities Minister.

MP Theresa Villiers was removed from the post of Environment Minister and replaced by MP George Eustice. George Eustice has a strong background in agriculture, having come from a farming family (that still run a fruit farm), however you only have to look at his voting history to be a little concerned. He has consistently voted against measures to prevent climate change, against financial support for some 16-19 year olds in education and training, and for university fees. We will see what he brings to the table as the seminal Environment Bill makes its journey through the Commons.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore announced he was leaving his post on Twitter, saying he had been promoted to spend more time with his family. The formal portfolio of this role (Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) has now been split in two, MP Michelle Donelan takes up the universities mantel, while the science element is thought to now sit under the newly promoted junior BEIS minister Amanda Solloway. Michelle Donelan was covering the children and families ministerial portfolio for Kemi Badenoch (who was on maternity leave) before she was promoted last week – so she has experience in the area, though her voting history is a little scary (generally in accordance with party line).  Amanda Solloway is well known for her campaign against the tampon tax, and has a similar voting history to Michelle.

Many in the education sector have expressed concern about this role being split, as there is huge crossover between education and science that may now be overlooked. Only time will tell on this front unfortunately.

Meanwhile, Andrea Leadsom was shuffled out of her post as BEIS minister, and Alok Sharma was shuffled in, while it was announced he would also serve as COP26 president. The former DFID minister has a good record for voting on topics such as equal gay rights and the smoking ban, and while he has generally voted in line with the party on environmental topics (mostly against them), he has been praised for his work in DFID on promoting action on Climate Change in developing countries.  You can see more on his voting record here. His position as COP26 president was unexpected, with Michael Gove or Zac Goldsmith being widely tipped as the most likely candidates after David Cameron and William Hague declined the position.

Some are disappointed that a more well-known minister has not been appointed to the post which needs to quickly bring unity and strategic planning to COP26 now for it to be a success, but anecdotally Alok is known to be a well-liked and amenable person, so hopefully this will work in the favour for COP26.
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