Theresa Anne Villiers (born 5 March 1968) is a British politician serving as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2019. A member of the Conservative Party, she has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Chipping Barnet since 2005. Villiers was Minister of State for Transport from 2010 to 2012 and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2012 until 2016.
Villiers was born in Hunstanton in 1968, the third child of George Edward Villiers by his marriage to Anne Virginia Threlfall; she has two elder brothers, Edward and Henry. On her father's side, she is a descendant of Edward Ernest Villiers (1806–1843), brother of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, Thomas Hyde Villiers, Charles Pelham Villiers, Henry Montagu Villiers and a direct descendant of Edward II.
Growing up in North London, she was educated at the independent Francis Holland School. Villiers gained a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree with first-class honours in 1990 from the University of Bristol, and a year later the postgraduate degree of Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) from Jesus College, Oxford. After university, she qualified for the bar at the Inner Temple, and worked as a lecturer at King's College London from 1994 until 1999.
Member of the European Parliament
Villiers was elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the London constituency in 1999, and was re-elected in 2004. She stood down after the 2005 general election when she was elected as the Member of Parliament (UK) (MP) for Chipping Barnet.
She served as Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament between 2001 and 2002. She also served as a member of the governing board of the Conservative Party during this period.
Member of Parliament
In 2003, following Sir Sydney Chapman's announcement that he would retire at the following election, Villiers was selected as the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Chipping Barnet. Although Chapman's majority at the 2001 general election had only been 2,701 votes, the party viewed Chipping Barnet to be quite a "safe" Conservative seat, and Villiers held it at the 2005 general election with an increased majority of 5,960 votes, which she increased again to 11,927 in 2010. Her majority dropped to 7,656 in 2015, and was reduced to just 353 in 2017. Upon her election to the House of Commons, she resigned from her seat in the European Parliament; it went to Syed Kamall, the next candidate on the Conservatives' regional list for London. Villiers now lives at Arkley in her constituency, and formerly lived at Hillsborough Castle.
Villiers was sworn of the Privy Council on 9 June 2010.
In December 2005, following the election of David Cameron as Conservative Party Leader, Villiers was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet after just seven months in the UK Parliament, as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In July 2007, Cameron promoted her to Shadow Secretary of State for Transport.
Following the 2010 general election, the Conservatives, short of an overall majority, formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. This required positions in Cabinet to be awarded to Lib Dem MPs, so Villiers did not become Secretary of State for Transport as might have been expected in the event of a majority Conservative government taking office. That role went instead to Philip Hammond, who had shadowed the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Villiers instead became a Minister of State at the Department for Transport.
Villiers was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in September 2012, but continued to spend three days a week in her North London constituency of Chipping Barnet. Her time in Northern Ireland gained mixed reviews. She made a speech in February 2016 defending the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, which had been accused of colluding with loyalist murderers in the Loughinisland massacre. The Police Ombudsman who investigated the murders, Dr. Michael Maguire, later stated with regard to law enforcement authorities colluding with the murderers: "I have no hesitation in unambiguously determining that collusion is a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders".
Villiers had said that "a pernicious counter-narrative" of the Troubles was emerging whereby responsibility for acts of terrorism was being shifted onto the security forces "through allegations of collusion, misuse of agents and informers or other forms of unlawful activity".
Villiers was one of the six cabinet ministers who came out in support of Brexit during the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. Following the referendum, on 14 July 2016, Villiers resigned from her position as Northern Ireland Secretary after stating that new Prime Minister Theresa May had offered her a post outside the Cabinet which was "not one which I felt I could take on".
Queen's Portraits Controversy
Villiers came under the spotlight on July 2019 after it was Lord Maginnis claimed that she had signed off a £10.000 settlement with a Northern Ireland Office's civil servant, Lee Hegarty, who claimed that under human rights legislation it was unfair to him to have to work where he was offended by portraits of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Lord Maginnis also claimed at the House of Lords that following the settlement the Villiers went on removing portraits were removed and substituted by Northern Irish landscapes. Villiers did not consider Hegarty's suggestion of replacing the said portraits of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh by photographs of the Queen meeting people during engagements in Northern Ireland.
Following the reports on media, her successor as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, requested an internal review into the decision to take down portraits of the Queen from Stormont House. While Arlene Foster, DUP's leader, went on Twitter delcaring that "It is beyond parody that there is a dispute over a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, our head of state".
Parliamentary expenses and second home
She also has a house in Arkley in her North London constituency of Chipping Barnet. The house, a semi-detached property that she bought for £296,500 in May 2004, is an eight-minute drive away from High Barnet tube station, from which commuters can reach Westminster in about forty-five minutes.
Villiers supported the temporary suspension of Ken Livingstone, then-Mayor of London, by the Adjudication Panel for England, which examined the case after a complaint from the Board of Deputies of British Jews to the Standards Board for England.
Theresa Villiers is a member of, and since 2017 Vice-Chair, of Conservative Friends of Israel.
On 19 July 2018 she was the only MP of any party to attend a rally of about 200–300 Jewish and other persons called by the "Campaign Against Antisemitism" (CAA) in Parliament Square, London, to protest against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. She has, on previous occasions, attended CAA protests similar to that of 19 July 2018 against anti-semitism within Labour.
She has spoken out publicly in support of Iranian resistance to the Iranian regime at an event in Paris in 2017, organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The NCRI is considered by some analysts to be a front organisation for the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), which was once listed by the US as a terror organisation.
Since September 2008, Villiers has dedicated a considerable proportion of her public announcements to aviation policy, specifically the expansion of airports in the South East of England. Villiers underlined that despite differences of opinion, the Coalition government's policy was opposed to a third runway at Heathrow airport.
She has also spoken out against Boris Johnson's favoured proposal for a new London airport to be built in the Thames Estuary, and alternative expansions at Gatwick and Stansted airports, arguing that airlines should make greater use of the UK's regional airports, though some regional airports themselves have expressed concern about being adversely affected by capacity shortages in the South East. Villiers favours construction of a high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and Manchester, arguing that flyers could use capacity at airports such as Birmingham International and Manchester International Airport.
In May 2017, Villiers announced that she fundamentally supports the ban on hunting of wild animals with dogs but suggested that there remains scope for reform of the Hunting Act 2004.
Villiers married fellow barrister Sid Wilken in 1997, and the following year they co-wrote a book on matters of contract and quasi-contract law, which was published by a major publishing house. They are now divorced.
- Theresa Villiers & Sean Wilken (29 April 1998). Law of Estoppel, Variation and Waiver. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-96921-4.