The move has raised further fears about the PM’s commitment to tackling climate change.
The environmentalist and Tory peer has been stripped of the domestic animal brief at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and will no longer attend Liz Truss’s cabinet.
He is expected to retain his position at the Foreign Office, where he is minister for the Pacific and international environment. The dismissal comes despite Downing Street insisting that the cabinet reshuffle had been stopped, as politics has largely ground to a halt during the official period of mourning following the Queen’s death.
Goldsmith said he was “very sad” to be leaving after a “whirlwind” three years as an environment minister. In a farewell letter to staff at the environment department, seen by the Guardian, Goldsmith also listed his achievements, including plastic pollution, forestry and the oceans.
In what appeared to be a warning to Liz Truss, the Tory peer said: “We have so much more to do to turn the tide here. The UK is, after all, one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries. But if Defra continues to get the backing you need and deserve across government, you can and you will turn the tide.”
Goldsmith had issued a similar warning during the Tory leadership contest. Speaking in parliament in July, he warned the two leadership candidates not to “walk away” from animal welfare issues.
“My hope … is to try very, very hard to shine a light on these issues and encourage the candidates that eventually make it to the top to just recognise that if they walk away from these issues, they not only will be punished by the electorate, they absolutely must be punished by the electorate.
“It is your duty and our duty, and everyone else’s duty, to punish any leader of any credible party that does not take these issues seriously because they simply do not merit the privilege of government,” he had said.
A Boris Johnson ally
A Boris Johnson ally, Goldsmith was made a life peer by the former prime minister in 2019. The peer, who was chosen as the Conservative candidate for the 2016 election for mayor of London but lost to Sadiq Khan, gained a reputation as an environmentalist because of his opposition to government plans to expand Heathrow Airport.
News of the sacking has ignited concern about the future of animal welfare and Truss’s commitment to tackling climate change. Some Tory MPs have expressed concern that Truss may ditch Johnson’s Animal Welfare Bill, designed to protect pets, livestock, and wild animals.
On the sacking, Tory MP Henry Smith said: “Zac has been a fantastic champion of animal welfare issues in government and, despite all the other distractions, he’s been instrumental in delivering quite a few pieces of legislation that have made it on to the statute books … I would expect the government to fulfil all its manifesto commitments and pledges on animal welfare, regardless of which individuals occupy roles in various departments.”
Trophy hunting ban
There are also fears that the trophy hunting ban, which Goldsmith had championed, might be dropped.
In December 2021, the government announced a ban on the importing of hunting trophies to protect the world’s threatened species.
The ban had faced opposition from Conservative backbenchers, and its abandonment would mean parts of endangered animals that have been shot abroad could be imported in the UK.
Writing for Politics Home in May 2019, Zac Goldsmith had said: “Clearly we cannot ban trophy hunting overseas, and it is not our place to do so. But we could reduce demand for it.”
The sacking of the environmentalist comes as amid alarm of the appointment of Ranil Jayawardena as new environment secretary. Jayawardena has “consistently” voted against policies to tackle the climate crisis and also against government support for renewable energy projects.
His voting record also shows he was among the Tory MPs who, in 2021, voted against Defra’s own environmental principles, designed, according to the department, “to guide ministers and policymakers towards opportunities to prevent environmental damage and enhance the environment, where relevant and appropriate.”
Environmental campaigners have called on Jayawardena to strengthen policies to protect the environment and address the sewage scandal.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said:
“A summer of outcry at our sewage-strewn beaches should give the new secretary of state pause for thought when considering his priorities. The public wants to see our natural world enhanced, not degraded further through cuts to vital protections.
“This new government should seek to strengthen rules meant to stop sewage polluting our rivers and coast, keep plastic from our seas and prevent destructive fishing in our marine protected areas. These aren’t just red tape to be slashed. And far from being a boon, the new secretary of state may find the main thing unleashed by cutting these protections is a wave of public anger as our natural world is further spoiled.”
Climate campaigners were also dismayed at the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg to oversee the UK’s energy and net zero strategy. Having a long record in climate denialism, green campaigners shared their concerns about the appointment of the ‘climate dinosaur‘ Tory MP.
Rebecca Newsom said Rees-Mogg is the “last person who should be in charge of the energy brief, at the worst possible moment.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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