The Conservative peer Zac Goldsmith has been sacked as an environment minister, raising fears among some Tory MPs and campaigners that animal welfare will be downgraded by Liz Truss’s government.
The environmentalist and politician, a close friend of Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, has been stripped of the domestic animal welfare brief and will no longer attend cabinet.
However, he is expected to keep his role at the Foreign Office, where he is minister of state for the Pacific and international environment. Downing Street originally said it had paused the reshuffle during the national period of mourning.
In a farewell letter to staff at the environment department, seen by the Guardian, Goldsmith said he was “very sad” to be leaving after a “whirlwind” three years, before listing his achievements, including in forestry, plastic pollution and the oceans.
He issued what appeared to be 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 world’s most nature-depleted countries. But if Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] continues to get the backing you need and deserve across government, you can and you will turn the tide.”
The Tory MP Henry Smith said: “Zac has been a fantastic champion of animal welfare issues in government and, despite all the other distractions, he’s been instrumental in delivering quite a few pieces of legislation that have made it on to the statute books.” He added: “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.”
Animal welfare campaigners are concerned that under the new environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, a former trade minister, farmers could be undercut on animal welfare grounds in trade deals.
Some Tory MPs suggested that Goldsmith did not see eye to eye with new environment minister, Mark Spencer, a farmer. They believed Truss may be planning to drop the kept animals bill, despite Jayawardena telling the Commons last week that it would resume as soon as possible. One MP said: “Liz might abandon it. She had no interest in animal welfare while a minister in Defra.”
There are also fears that the trophy hunting ban that Goldsmith had championed, but which faced opposition from some Conservative backbenchers, could be dropped, meaning that importing parts of endangered animals shot abroad would be allowed to continue.
The ban was a Tory manifesto commitment for the last parliamentary session, when the former environment secretary George Eustice said the government was “absolutely committed to” bringing a bill forward but the government said it had run out of time.
Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the influential Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, of which Carrie Johnson is a patron, said she was disappointed by Goldsmith’s removal, as he had been a champion for animal welfare.
“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. We have higher animal welfare standards here than many countries, so they cannot compete,” she said.
“The UK is behind certain countries on ending cages and crates – that is something Zac wanted to do if he had stayed on – there is still a lot we could do on trade agreements. 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.”