IN WHAT some political observers have described as a 'seizure of power' by the radical right wing of the Conservative Party, newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's first act was a comprehensive clear out of all the cabinet ministers that did not support him during his leadership campaign, and their replacement with loyal MPs, all of them staunchly pro-Brexit.

The most relevant changes for Scottish farmers were the removal of Michael Gove from Defra, where he had made a good impression with his promises of extra Brexit support for agriculture sectors affected by Brexit trade disruption, and the sacking of David Mundell as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Happily, for Mr Gove at least, he stays in government, promoted to the new cabinet post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in effect Deputy Prime Minister. His replacement at Defra has been announced as Theresa Villiers MP, who offers a mixed bag to farmers – while she is on record as wanting a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter, she has also stated that food and farming is 'one of the most important sectors of the UK economy' and suggested a new UK subsidy system would be less bureaucratic and could be 'more generous'.

“Agricultural support payments will be needed to ensure food produced with high welfare standards is not priced out of the market by cheaper less compassionate alternatives,” is a Villiers quote that farmers' representatives might want to memorise.

Mr Mundell, however, has no new post to go to, and returns to the back benches, while Dumfries and Galloway MP Alister Jack, a noted entrepreneur with some dairy farming interests, takes on the Secretary of State role.

NFU Scotland has already written to these new-starts, congratulating them on their appointments and seeking engagement on Scottish farming issues at the earliest opportunity. Union president Andrew McCornick said: “When seeking election, we received significant commitments from the new Prime Minister, both publicly and privately. Congratulating them on their appointment, we now look forward to working closely with both Alister Jack and Theresa Villiers to secure delivery.

“In responding to NFU Scotland during the process for electing the new Prime Minister, Mr Johnson said his ambition was for a trade deal that minimises friction and that his intention was to establish a process that ensures that every sector and industry in the economy has access to the workers that it needs.

“He included a categorical commitment to address the £160 million shortfall in funding that Scottish farming has experienced in recent years as a result of the flawed convergence decisions taken by the Government in 2013, as well as providing an additional £25 million per year to the sector.

“With Lord Bew’s review of agricultural funding expected shortly, and Brexit casting a huge shadow over Scotland’s farmers and crofters, these are matters we would wish to pick up with our new Secretaries of State as a matter of urgency," said Mr McCornick.

“Theresa Villiers is our seventh Secretary of State at Defra in less than a decade so it would be incredibly beneficial to meet soon to outline the priorities and concerns for Scottish farming," he stressed.

“As MP for a rural constituency, and with a background in farming, Alister Jack will already have an excellent knowledge of the importance of Scottish food and farming and we would welcome the chance to discuss how, together, we can make the industry more profitable and productive in a post-Brexit future.

“I would also like to publicly thank both David Mundell and Michael Gove," added Mr McCornick. "NFUS has had a good relationship with both, allowing valuable discussion and debate on Scottish food and farming to take place at both a local and national level.”

There was a less warm welcome for Ms Villiers from the National Sheep Association, which expressed frustration about having yet another new face at the top of Defra at such a critical time for the UK sheep sector, and expressed a wish that recent work around Brexit not be swept aside or lost in the changeover.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal is placing the UK sheep sector in completely unjustifiable danger. For reasons of continuity at such a difficult time, we would have much preferred for Michael Gove to have remained as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

"With Boris Johnson so new to the top job and Theresa Villiers taking on a brand new and very complex role at Defra, the absolute priority for both of them must be to ensure an orderly exit from the EU and continue the work to ensure protection is in place for the sheep sector in the worst case scenario of a no-deal.”

Mr Stocker added: “NSA met with Ms Villiers a few months ago, in response to our concerns about her extreme stance on animal welfare. We are looking forward to meeting her again soon to ensure she is as well informed as possible and can continue the work being done within Defra on a number of topics, including the priority issue of Brexit."

The British Veterinary Association was also quick off the mark to suggest that the welfare-friendly Ms Villiers must focus on securing new legislation on animal sentience before the UK leaves the EU – and noted that Mr Gove had pledged to bring such a law in before the UK left the EU but had failed to take his draft legislation through Parliament.

The BVA said it would also be seeking government action to improve welfare at slaughter, including a commitment to ban the export of meat and produce from non-stun slaughter, to secure tighter controls on the movement of pet animals, and to continue cross-sector efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance and support sustainable animal agriculture.

BVA president Simon Doherty said: “The new Prime Minister’s well-publicised deal or no-deal strategy means that we need a strong and well-informed voice in Cabinet championing animal health and welfare and understanding the veterinary role in public health and international trade.

Commenting on Mr Gove’s move from Defra to the Cabinet Office where he will oversee no-deal planning, Mr Doherty added: “We’d like to thank Michael Gove for his time as Defra Secretary of State where he led on some major animal health and welfare initiatives and helped us secure a return of vets to the shortage occupation list. It’s disappointing that he didn’t manage to take his draft legislation on animal sentience through Parliament, but this remains a key priority.

“In his new role in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, we are keen to work with him to continue raising awareness of the enormous impact this could have on the veterinary profession and wider animal health and welfare sector.”