AMID the Brexit chaos the normal business of government must go on. Such a pity that much of it seems as inept as the Brexit imbroglio. Environment Secretary Michael Gove provides a striking example. Mr Gove has the admirable desire to improve the care of the countryside. So he plans to offer landowners conservation agreements which will, in his word “allow” them to safeguard environmentally precious parts of their land. Covenants with the agreements could bind future owners, and Mr Gove trumpets his plan as “a further step in our ambition to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than when we found it.” Splendid – except one wonders what’s now stopping landowners protecting conservation-worthy bits of their land. Illustrating how the agreements might work Mr Gove’s department explains that the owner of moorland that includes a crag used by rock climbers could sign a covenant guaranteeing its proper management, and public access, when his/her heirs inherit.

Well, I could take Mr Gove to a particular moorland crag that was enjoyed by climbers – until the landowner banned them. Though now accessible through the right to roam, climbing on it remains forbidden. I could also show Mr Gove forestry plantations where Keep Out signs have gone up following their sale by the Forestry Commission, which allowed full, non-motorised access.

Though there are private landowners willing to open up their land, it can be predicted confidently that few will rush to take up Mr Gove’s agreements. Even Natural England’s welcome for the plan, which it sees as offering “long term gains for nature,” is not quite wholehearted. No mention of people, often unwanted by Natural England.

MEANWHILE, shifting subjects, Mr Gove earns a star or two with perhaps the most sensational remark ever made by a Tory Cabinet Minister. He declared his belief that private education creates a “fundamental inequality in society.” Asked if he wished to get rid of private schools by stealth he replied: “Well, yes.”

Astonishing. But, as a former education secretary, Mr Gove has missed his chance. And he then wears the dunce’s cap for his reason for abandoning his one-time proposal that independent schools should be stripped of their (tax-saving) charitable status. When it was pointed out this was Labour policy he answered: “Exactly – that’s why I hesitated, because I think the Labour policy is wrong.” So though his instinct urges him one way he stops because he doesn’t like the company. Just as well that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is firmly bottom of the (Cabinet) class.

FURTHER non-Brexit ineptitude looming? The Government seems minded to scrap short prison sentences, which it is advised are ineffective. Will this mean even lighter punishment for cruelty to animals, for which the maximum prison sentence is six months? It needs increasing – to ten years. Too long? No. Since scarcely any criminal receives the maximum punishment, and most serve only half of any prison sentence, even those guilty of the very worst cruelty to animals would be behind bars for no more than about four years, which seems just about right to me.