As Sunak’s Cabinet takes shape, the latest secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs has been confirmed. Step forward, Thérèse Coffey.

The MP for Suffolk Coastal succeeds Ranil Jayawardena, who barely got the chance to don his wellies during his 44 days in office. But he still managed to cause concern, with his free-marketer instincts and bid to deregulate and “free our farmers” through a review of the government’s sustainability-focused post-Common Agriculture Policy subsidy regime.

Coffey’s appointment is something of a surprise, considering former Defra secretaries George Eustice and Michael Gove had been touted for returns to the job. That move has been seen by political commentators as one of the many concessions Sunak has been forced to make to the Conservative Party’s warring factions – alongside the controversial reappointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary –  to achieve his promise of uniting the country “not with words, but with action” .

Given how Coffey was so integral to Truss’s disastrous premiership, the reaction to her appointment has been mixed, at best.

The NFU offered a standard tweet of congratulations, saying it was “looking forward” to working with her, while the FDF’s CEO Karen Betts said she was “delighted” to see Coffey at Defra.

But the reaction of others on social media shows she will have her work cut out in convincing the food sector of her ability to tackle its myriad challenges.

One disbelieving senior food industry leader merely tweeted she was at “a loss for words” following Coffey’s appointment.

Meanwhile, ex-NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts questioned whether Coffey was a good fit for the role given recent criticism over her giving leftover antibiotics to a friend. While the food sector had made great strides in reducing antibiotic usage on farms, we now had a Defra secretary that “advocated what can never be called a responsible use of antibiotics in her role at health”, he pointed out.

On the plus side, there is more to Coffey than her well-documented penchant for cigars, hip-hop legend Dr Dre and karaoke. She has a previous stint at Defra under her belt – serving between 2016 and 2019 – and also spent many years working at Mars before she entered politics.

Now Sunak is PM, more stormy waters lie ahead for industry

Her time at Defra perhaps hints at what is to come. There, she supported the type of “nature-based farming schemes” that Jayawardena had planned to weaken as “the best and most cost-effective way to tackle climate change”. However, there could be less support for other measures. Coffey’s voting record on environmental matters is mixed, with records showing she has generally voted against measures on climate.

As she returns to her old stomping ground at Defra, the food sector will arguably be looking to her record at the Department for Work and Pensions as a portent of whether she will be a supportive and, as Sunak promises, “compassionate” secretary of state.

In that role, Coffey came under fire for flippant remarks to a tweet by footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford over his calls for free school meals over the summer holidays in 2020.

She was also accused by the Labour Party of attempting to hide the impact of the government’s welfare reforms by concealing official reports on benefits, and was criticised last September for suggesting people could simply work an extra two hours a week to mitigate the loss of the temporary £20 a week top-up in Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic.

Her supporters, however, suggest Coffey is a “sincere, believing Catholic. Just about plumb in the centre of the Conservative Party. Liked by all”, according to the Conservative Home website.

Her appointment at Defra will certainly be a test of her abilities and sympathies. Faced with a food sector buffeted by crisis over the past few years, and one in which input costs are up 35% over the past year, Coffey will face a bulging in-tray.

And if dealing with rising costs, plus uncertainty over post-CAP subsidies via the now at-risk Environmental Land Management Scheme wasn’t enough, she’ll also have to come up with solutions around the political football of labour shortages, avian flu and keeping the supermarkets full of food in the run-up to Christmas.

Let’s hope she stays in the job longer than her predecessor.