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Defra will need a strong leader when Gove goes - Rory Stewart is on my shortlist

With Gove bidding for the Tory leadership, he’s almost certain to leave Defra. But farmers will need a strong leader, like Rory Stewart, to stand up for ag over the coming years, says George Dunn, TFA chief executive.

Brexit has a seemingly unending ability to cause tumult in British politics. Every deal of the Brexit cards causes the rise and fall of political fortunes.

 

It is a measure of the unpredictability of the times that both the Brexit Party and the pro-remain Liberal Democrats are riding high in the polls.

 

Of course, the most recent victim of this European game of poker is our Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has sparked a leadership race for the Conservative Party, our country and most importantly at this time, for the team that will resolve the Brexit conundrum.

 

To date, that has proved an impossible task and looks set to be as challenging, if not more so, for whoever is left holding the leadership brief at the end of the summer.

 

Difficult

 

Wonder then that so many Conservative MPs are lining up to take the top job in such difficult circumstances.

 

With Michael Gove in the race with the other dozen or so candidates, it is likely we will see a change in leadership in Defra.

 

Like him or loathe him, Gove has certainly brought a new dynamism to a Government department which was heading for the backwaters of Whitehall prior to his arrival.

 

One would hope if he is successful in gaining the top job, he will take with him many of the lines of briefing provided by the farming voices he has taken the time to listen to in his role as Secretary of State.

 

Fail

 

Fail in his task and he might end up with another major department, such as the Treasury, if he is defeated by one of his political friends - or if Boris Johnson emerges the winner, he may find himself languishing on the back benches with a lecture tour.

 

What then the future for Defra? Rightly, it has been identified as a key department in terms of the impact of whatever changes occur as a result of Brexit.

 

Too often in the past it has been seen either as a political nursery or a retirement home.

 

Neither should be the basis upon which the new Prime Minister chooses the next Secretary of State.

 

Strong

 

We need a strong leader who will stand firm against the Department for International Trade when it wants to do trade deals allowing imports of sub-standard food; who will argue with the Home Office for a sensible immigration policy to safeguard the supply of labour for our farming and horticultural business; who will speak up loudly in discussions with BEIS for robust food supply chain regulation; who will champion farming and the rural economy with the Treasury when it is no longer required by EU law to prioritise spending on those areas.

 

Some are suggesting one of the other leadership candidates, Rory Stewart, might be a good fit for the DEFRA role.

 

If he fails to make it to Number 10, then he would certainly be on my shortlist.

 

George can be found tweeting at @georgewdunn


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