Boris Johnson ally Zac Goldsmith has been axed as an environment minister and told he will no longer be attending Liz Truss’s cabinet, it has emerged.
The Conservative minister has been stripped of his brief overseeing animal welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), government sources confirmed to The Independent.
Mr Goldsmith appeared to issue a warning to Ms Truss in an exit letter to Defra staff saying the government has “so much more to do to turn the tide” on the environment, according to The Guardian, which first reported on his sacking.
The Tory peer is said to told have written that he was “very sad” to be leaving after a “whirlwind” three years as an environment minister, championing action on climate change as well as better animal welfare protection.
“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,” he wrote.
Lord Goldsmith, made a life peer by Mr Johnson in 2019 before handing him government jobs, is expected to keep his ministerial role at the Foreign Office, where he still has a brief on the Pacific Ocean and the environment.
However, animal welfare campaigners and farmers have raised fears that his axing at Defra could mean concerns about animal welfare being downgraded when it comes to post-Brexit trade deals.
Lorraine Platt of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation – which boasts the former PM’s wife Carrie Johnson as a sponsor – told The Guardian that she was disappointed by the loss of Lord Goldsmith’s role.
“Our government has always maintained that animal welfare standards will be maintained in any trade deals, but this is vitally important that this is honoured and that our farmers are not undercut by low welfare trade deals,” she said.
Ms Platt added: “We have higher animal welfare standards here than many countries, so they cannot compete … It is important to the public that animal welfare is advanced, and we hope the government recognises this and continues to uphold and improve our high standards.”
Dr Alice Brough, a livestock veterinarian from Gloucestershire, recently said: “Liz Truss and Ranil Jayawardena’s attitude of prioritising free trade, no matter the cost, has shown shocking neglect for British farmers, and therefore the rest of us struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.”
Some Tory MPs are worried that Ms Truss may drop Mr Johnson’s Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which sought to impose new controls on the kinds of kept animals that are imported or exported to and from Great Britain.
There are also fears that legislative plans for a UK trophy hunting import ban – a Tory manifesto commitment – could be shelved.
The former environment secretary George Eustice had said ministers remained “absolutely committed” to a bill, but he was replaced by Ranil Jayawardena when Ms Truss named her first cabinet earlier this month.
“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,” said Tory MP Henry Smith, who said Mr Goldsmith had been a “fantastic champion of animal welfare issues”.
Some junior ministerial appointments are yet to be made, as politics as usual remains on hold as the nation observes the 10-day mourning period after the death of the Queen. Ms Truss is expected to fill remaining positions next week.
Lord Goldsmith’s office has been contacted for comment.