The conservative peer Zac Goldsmith was sacked as environment minister, raising concerns among some Tory MPs and campaigners that animal welfare could be downgraded by Liz Truss’ government.
The environmentalist and politician, a close friend of Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, has been stripped of the pet welfare dossier and will no longer sit in cabinet.
However, he is expected to retain his post at the Foreign Office, where he is Minister of State for the Pacific and International Environment. Downing Street initially said it had suspended the reshuffle during the period of national mourning.
In a farewell letter to Environment Department staff, seen by the Guardian, Goldsmith said he was ‘very sad’ to leave after a ‘whirlwind’ of three years, before listing his achievements including in forestry, plastic pollution and the oceans.
He issued what appeared to be a warning to Truss. “We have so much more to do to turn the tide here,” he said. “The UK is, after all, one of the most nature-poor countries in the world. But if Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] continues to get the support you need and deserve across government, you can and you will turn the tide.
Tory MP Henry Smith said: ‘Zac has been a fantastic advocate for animal welfare issues within government and despite all other distractions he has been instrumental in bringing about several pieces of legislation which have been enshrined in legislation… I would expect the government to deliver on all commitments and promises in its animal welfare manifesto, regardless of who holds positions in different departments.
Animal welfare campaigners fear that under the new environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, a former trade minister, farmers will be undermined on animal welfare grounds in trade deals.
Some Tory MPs suggested Goldsmith disagreed with new environment minister Mark Spencer, a farmer. They believe Truss may be considering dropping the Kept Animals Bill, although Jayawardena told the Commons last week that its passage would resume as soon as possible. One MP said: ‘Liz might give it up. She had no interest in animal welfare when she was a minister at Defra.
It is also feared that the ban on trophy hunting which Goldsmith had championed, but which faced opposition from some Tory backbenchers, could be dropped, meaning the import of parts of endangered animals slaughtered overseas would be allowed to continue.
The ban was a Tory manifesto pledge for the last parliamentary session, when former environment secretary George Eustice said the government was ‘absolutely determined to’ introduce a bill, but the government said that he had no more time.
Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the influential Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, of which Carrie Johnson is a patron, said she was disappointed with Goldsmith’s withdrawal because he had been a champion of animal welfare.
“Our government has always maintained that animal welfare standards will be maintained in all trade agreements, but it is extremely important that this is honored and that our farmers are not undermined by low welfare trade agreements. We have higher animal welfare standards here than in many countries, so they cannot compete,” she said.
“The UK is behind some countries in ending cages and crates – it’s something Zac wanted to do if he had stayed. There is still a lot to do in terms of trade agreements. It is important to the public that animal welfare progresses, and we hope the government will recognize this and continue to maintain and improve our high standards. »