Gove will play a significant role in Brexit negotiations at the head of Defra

Gove will play a significant role in Brexit negotiations at the head of Defra

UK Conservative politician Michael Gove made a shock return to the Cabinet this weekend when he was named the country's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

Gove, who was sacked from the front bench by Prime Minister Theresa May last year, will take on the role previously held by Andrea Leadsom, who has been moved to become leader of the House of Commons after less than a year in the job.

May's Cabinet rehuffle follows last week's UK general election, which was designed to strengthen the Government's hand ahead of Brexit negotiations. In a disastrous result for the Conservative Party, however, the party lost its majority in the House of Commons, the UK's lower house.

While the Conservatives, under May, remain the largest single party in the House of Commons, they have been forced to form a minority government and looking for support from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. The two sides are set to enter talks this week on a potential working arrangement.

May has faced criticism from within her own party for the decision to call an election and the manner in which she conducted the campaign. The Cabinet reshuffle, which saw relatively few changes to the front bench, will largely have been designed to shore-up support within May's own ranks after initial calls for her resignation were muted within the party. 

Gove, a vocal Brexit campaigner, told Sky News he was "surprised" by the appointment. 

"I am delighted to be part of the government, I am delighted to be able to support Theresa to ensure that we have a government capable of delivering on the people's wishes," he said, referring to last year's UK referendum on its membership of the EU, which saw a majority vote to leave.

UK election result raises food sector hopes of better Brexit - column

Gove was a prominent member of the 'leave' campaign during the referendum. In his new post, he will head what looks set to become one of the more important government department's both during the UK's negotiations with the EU on its departure from the bloc and once the country leaves. For example, The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, a significant source of income for UK farmers, will have to be replaced by a UK system.

Responding to the appointment, Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents food and soft drink manufacturers operating in the UK, said: "It is a big boost that the Prime Minister has appointed one of the Cabinet's heaviest hitters to a ministry so significantly at the heart of Brexit. We very much look forward to working with Mr Gove and his new team. With them and with friends from NFU and across UK food and drink we will champion the growth of the industry in the exciting months to come."

Previously, Gove served as government chief whip and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and Education Secretary. When he was overseeing the Department of Education, between 2010 and 2014, Gove became embroiled in an argument with May, then Home Secretary, over the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by hardline Islamists. Gove's allies at the Department for Education blamed the Home Office for the scandal, prompting May's aides to publish confidential cabinet correspondence attacking Gove.

While the UK Education's Secretary, Gove also attempted to remove the teaching of climate change from the school geography curriculum.