George Eustice will continue to serve with Liz Truss at Defra after he was rewarded with a promotion in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Ministerial reshuffle, while Cumbrian MP Rory Stewart has also been handed a role at the Department.
Mr Eustice, Farming Minister since October 2013, has been appointed a Minister of State at Defra, having previously held the more junior title of Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
In his first Ministerial role, Penrith and the Border MP Mr Stewart will serve as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra.
The Ministers’ full roles and responsibilities have yet to be confirmed but it would be a big surprise if Mr Eustice did not continue as Farming Minister, with Mr Stewart likely to pick up much of the brief previously held by Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson, who lost his seat in Thursday’ election.
Mr Eustice enjoyed an excellent election result, increasing his majority in Camborne and Redruth from a precarious 66 in 2010 to more than 7,000 in Thursday’s vote.
He is widely seen within the farming industry has having done a good job as Farming Minister over the past 20 months, particularly on some of the more difficult like bovine TB and CAP reform.
His promotion to a higher Ministerial rank has been welcomed. The demotion of his role, which prior to his appointment had previously carried the status of Minister of State, in 2013 had caused disquiet within among industry representatives, who felt it reflected a downgrading of farming’s voice within Government.
Like Mr Eustice, Mr Stewart, 42, was first elected to Parliament in 2010. He was elected by MPs to chair the Commons Defence Committee in May 2014, a high profile role that reflected his varied experience outside of politics.
He is a former diplomat who served as a senior coalition official in occupied Iraq in 2003–04 and is also described as an academic, author and documentary maker. His books, including the Places in Between, an account of his 32-day solo walk across Afghanistan in 2002, have been critically acclaimed.
He was appointed a Professor of Human Rights at Harvard University in 2008, a role he left in 2008.
As an MP he has campaigned hard on improving mobile phone and broadband coverage in rural areas, helping to secure broadband roll out in Cumbria.
The re-appointments of both Mrs Truss and Mr Eustice at bring continuity at a key time for the Department, which faces the immediate challenge of trying to ensure the smooth implementation of the Basic Payment Scheme in England.
The farming sector will be hoping for some rapid answers from Defra Ministers on details surrounding the BPS application process, such as the requirements for mapping permanent ineligible features, after the period of election purdah put these sorts of questions on hold.
Also in their in-tray will be the next steps in the roll out of the badger cull, while the Conservatives’ manifesto also included key pledges on cutting red tape, including the introduction of a single inspection agency, and a 25-year plan for British food.
Further Ministerial appointments are expected soon. We will update this story when they are made.