Minister quits government over Sunak's 'uninterest' in the environment

Zac Goldsmith said Sunak's approach to the environment "has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis"
Zac Goldsmith. Photo: Ian Davidson/Alamy

By Caitlin Doherty

30 Jun 2023

Zac Goldsmith has resigned as a Foreign Office minister, accusing prime minister Rishi Sunak of being “uninterested” in environmental policy.

The former MP for Richmond Park, who served in successive recent governments as minister of state for overseas territories, commonwealth, energy, climate and environment said it had been a “privilege to have been able to make a difference to a cause” he is committed to, but the government’s “apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we face” has made him staying in the role “untenable”. 

The resignation comes after Lord Goldsmith was named yesterday as one of the parliamentarians who had attacked the privileges committee as a result of their work looking into whether Boris Johnson misled the Commons over partygate. 

Writing to accept Goldsmith's resignation, Sunak indicated he believed the move was in direct response to fallout from the committee's report. 

"You were asked to apologise for your comments about the privileges committee as we felt they were incompatible with your position as minister of the crown," Sunak wrote.  "You have decided to take a different course."

Tweeting his resignation letter this morning, Goldsmith said he is stepping down “reluctantly”. 

Goldsmith, who has been in the Lords since 2020, said the UK has “visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature” and pointed to “abandoned” commitments such as the Kept Animals Bill, but pointed the finger at Sunak’s own attitude. 

“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment,” Goldsmith said. 

“It is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. 

“That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.” 

A report by Climate Change Committee this week warned that political leadership was "missing" at the top of government, halting progress on tackling climate change.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC, said: “You’ve got a series of strings being pushed across government and no one at the top pulling it up to raise it to the political priority that is required. Until that happens, this programme [of reaching net zero] is going to run into the sand.”

The Office for Environmental Protection, another government watchdog, warned earlier this year that the government efforts to improve the environment in England has “fallen far short” of its ambitions, including climate change targets.

In his letter to Goldsmith, Sunak said that ministers should "be proud of the UK's record as a world-leader" on net -zero policy. 

"We are going far beyond other countries and delivering tangible progress whilst bringing down energy bills," he added.

Goldsmith’s departure will leave a ministerial hole at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, where the minister of state for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment post sits. 

Caitlin Doherty is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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