A minister for all seasons
Country Life UK|March 03, 2021
The Defra Secretary on badgers, Brexit and other burning topics
George Eustice

THE Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not only a mouthful to say, it’s a sprawling behemoth of government. When I interviewed former incumbent Owen Paterson back in 2013, he waved at me a mind-boggling, Jackson Pollock-esque Venn diagram: food and farming overlapping with rivers, coasts, clean air and green energy, fishing, fieldsports, flytipping and fruit pickers, pet passports and pigeon-shooting licences. The conflicting interests of myriad bodies, from the NFU to Buglife, and the scope for political banana skins of the Scotch-egg variety is infinite.

In an unusual example of ministerial consistency, the affable George Eustice, 49, has worked at Defra for eight years, under five secretaries of state. He has the rare political advantage of looking like a man who knows one end of a cow from another and isn’t uncomfortable in a farmyard —probably because his family’s centuries-old Cornish enterprise includes the UK’s largest herd of British Lop pigs. This does bring pressure, however. ‘I think farmers welcomed someone with farming experience, but they also understand political judgement: that they can’t have everything they want and that I do care passionately about the environment and wildlife,’ he explains. ‘You do get polarised views and there’s a huge responsibility to exercise judgement, balance arguments and review evidence, even if you’re initiated in the subject. It’s craven to be buffeted by public opinion; you’ve got to be brave enough to do what you think is right.’

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