New Defra secretary in major cabinet reshuffle

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Cabinet shake-up sees  Steve Barclay named the new head of Defra. Image: Getty, Oversnap
Cabinet shake-up sees Steve Barclay named the new head of Defra. Image: Getty, Oversnap

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Former health secretary Steve Barclay has been appointed environment secretary as part of a major shake-up of the cabinet, as previous Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) head Therese Coffey resigns from the role.

Victoria Atkins has been promoted from her junior minister role as financial secretary to the treasury to take over from Barclay as secretary of state for health and social care.

Coffey, who served as health secretary under prime minister Liz Truss, announced she was to leave her post as Defra head earlier today (13 November). In a letter addressed to Rishi Sunak, she said now was the “right time to step back from government”.

Commented on her work with Defra, Coffey said: “I have strengthened the foundations for Defra to deliver here in the UK and globally, such that this government has achieved more than any other to protect our planet.

‘Critical to food security’

“Having a sustainable farming and food sector is critical for our long-term food security and by listening to farmers and making changes I am confident we can deliver that sustainability and strengthen both our farming and fishing sectors.”

However, many people rushed to social media to celebrate her departure. Users of the site (formerly Twitter) were quick to criticise her handling of Storm Babet and many noted her less than stellar relationship with the farming community.


Members of the food and drink industry were cautiously optimistic over Barclay’s appointment.

British Frozen Food Foundation (BFFF) chief executive Rupert Ashby said: “I hope he brings a sense of urgency and a clear focus on addressing the issues BFFF members are facing.

“We would particularly like to see an effort to resolve the complex issues around the Northern Ireland border and further clarity on EU goods entering the UK. In addition, we would like measures to ease labour movement regulations to ensure that growers and food manufacturers can attract more seasonal and permanent staff to harvest and produce the food the country needs.

“Looking ahead we’d also welcome the opportunity to discuss with him the role of frozen food in reducing food waste.”

Exports to China

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) hoped Barclay will pick up where Coffey left off during her trip to China last week to promote British exports of beef, lamb and poultry.

“It’s now down to him to secure these new business opportunities across the globe and we wish them well,”​ said AIMS head of communications Tony Goodger.

“It is also essential that the new secretary of state addresses industry concerns over issues such as access to labour and barriers to overseas market, some of which have been established by the UK Government themselves.”

The reshuffle also saw former prime minister David Cameron appointed as secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, taking over from James Cleverly – now home secretary.

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