Andrea Leadsom has been appointed the new UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). 

In this post, Leadsom will head up the Defra, where she will be responsible for shaping the future of food, agricultural and fisheries policies, as well as overseeing environmental regulations in areas such as water quality.

Leadsom, who supported Britain’s exit from the EU, recently pulled out of the race against Theresa May to become leader of the governing Conservative Party and UK prime minister. She replaces Liz Truss, who May moved to the position of justice secretary when she unveiled her cabinet line-up yesterday (14 July). 

Leadsom’s appointment comes at a crucial juncture for the UK food industry, the country’s largest manufacturing sector. In an open letter to the new prime minister yesterday, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) set out the sector’s most pressing priorities for the negotiations with the EU on the UK’s new relationship with the bloc. These include reassurance to those EU migrants already working in the UK, as well as continued market access to EU consumers, ingredients and existing trade deals.

The FDF – alongside other food sector bodies such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) – has been vocal in its criticism of Brexit. This stance is a sharp contrast to Brexiteer Leadsom’s support of withdrawal from the EU. Detailing the FDF’s priorities yesterday, FDF director-general Ian Wright stressed: “Our partnership with UK government has never been more important to keeping food prices stable, protecting UK competitiveness and securing a skilled workforce for the future.”

Responding to the appointment, NFU president Meurig Raymond congratulated Leadsom on her new role and outlined the challenges ahead. “Following a period of uncertainty we are now entering a significant time for our nation following the Brexit vote… At the forefront will be a new domestic agricultural policy. This should encourage growth, innovation, productivity and profitability,” he said. “Above all, we hope that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell and it’s an industry that is optimistic about meeting the challenges ahead.”

Likewise, Dairy UK chief executive Dr Judith Bryans stressed the potential of the sector and said the industry organisation “looks forward” to building a “strong working relationship” with Leadsom. The dairy industry has serious challenges ahead but also many opportunities and we ask Mrs Leadsom and her team to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for our industry throughout the Brexit negotiations. Dairy is vital to Britain’s economy, environment and diet and therefore it is clearly within the government’s interest to ensure that this industry is well-supported. There is much at stake and we count on Defra’s support to foster growth and success in our great UK dairy industry,” she commented. 

Leadsom was elected Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire in 2010. She served as economic secretary to the Treasury from April 2014 until May 2015 and Minister of State at the Department of Energy & Climate Change from May 2015 until July 2016.