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As Theresa May faces yet another challenging week over Brexit, with backbenchers baying for blood, there’s one prominent Brexiteer who continues to be relatively silent on Chequers, the Irish backstop, and the possibility of leaving next March without a deal.

In the run-up to the referendum, Michael Gove was one of the key figures pushing for us to Leave, arguing that Britain would be stronger outside the EU and criticising ‘experts’ for their doomsday warnings. But as we approach the moment of truth, his focus is on something arguably more prosaic.

Having reinvented himself as a green warrior this time last year (including with his support for an ivory trade ban), Gove continues to plug away on single-use plastics, this morning publishing a consultation on banning the distribution and/or sale of plastic straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic drink stirrers. “Today we step-up our efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it,” he said, in a press release endorsed by none other than Greenpeace UK’s political adviser.

Today’s announcement is set to be followed by further clarity, in next Monday’s Budget, on the use of levies to address single-use plastics like coffee cups or water bottles. Although the Chancellor will set out the plans and any levy will fall under the Treasury’s remit, and although No. 10 has seized upon this agenda as well, it’s undoubtedly Gove who will be basking in the green glow of public and campaigner praise.

It’s not just plastics. Gove is shepherding the Agriculture Bill through Parliament at present, paving the way for the UK Government to make direct payments to farmers post-Brexit, when EU subsidies no longer apply. Alongside this there are ambitions around productivity in farming and rewarding farmers for the public goods they provide.  The Bill’s second reading made headlines after the DUP abstained on a Labour amendment in order to reassert its authority, but it’s more than a political football. For Gove this bill is a crucial lever through which he can ensure Brexit isn’t the disaster his critics argue it will be for a perhaps small but certainly influential cohort.

It’s worth noting too that, while Gove has been restrained on Twitter of late (an odd Brexity retweet notwithstanding), he has been enthusiastically sharing announcements indicating an upturn in the UK’s education standards – apparently vindicating the controversial reformist zeal he displayed during his tenure at the Department for Education. “Quite a record….” he tweeted in response to figures showing positive results at Free Schools.

While the media obsesses over whether Boris would beat Jacob, or whether David Davis is lining himself up as an interim leader, Gove is quietly shoring up his record on the home front and bolstering a reputation damaged by his knifing of Boris back in the heady days of 2016. Even his interventions on Brexit position him firmly on the fence, hedging his bets in a way that many of his peers seem unwilling to, for example telling Andrew Marr that “a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union… but the Chequers approach is the right one for now”.

Not for him a high-profile resignation; instead a dogged focus on getting things done in a once disparaged department. Which, in a few months’ time, when we leave the EU and the leadership battle begins in earnest, will leave him as one of the only May-era ministers with a domestic record to speak of.

Lexington works with a number of clients in the environmental sector, including supporting the Stop Ivory campaign and working with BRITA UK on the campaign against single-use plastics. For more information about Lexington’s offer in this area, contact Jennifer.lipman@lexcomm.co.uk

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