LONDON — David Frost has resigned from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government at a key moment in talks with Brussels.
In a letter to Johnson, published at 10 Downing Street on Saturday evening, Frost, who was Britain’s minister responsible for Brexit negotiations, said he was stepping down with immediate effect to “hand over to others to manage our coming”. relations with the EU.
He had planned to quit in January but announced it after news of his resignation was published by the Mail on Saturday evening.
Frost said while Brexit was “now secure”, he was concerned about the “current direction of travel” when it came to seizing the opportunities of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“I hope we get as fast as we can to where we need to be: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy at the forefront of modern science and economic change. Three hundred years of history show that countries that take this path grow and prosper, and I’m confident we will too,” he said.
The news comes after a terrible week for Johnson. After Britain’s Prime Minister suffered a huge rebellion in the House of Commons from his own MPs on Wednesday over his COVID-19 Brexit policy, voters overthrew a massive Tory majority on Thursday in a by-election in North Shropshire which was sparked by his mishandling of a lobbying scandal.
Johnson’s top official Simon Case was forced to stand aside from an investigation into rule-breaking parties at 10 Downing Street yesterday after it emerged he had attended a cocktail party impromptu Christmas in his government office last year in an apparent breach of COVID Rules.
Frost, a Johnson loyalist who served as his special adviser when he was foreign secretary, was knighted by the prime minister so he could join the government and lead negotiations with Brussels over the implementation of the Brexit deal. He then became Cabinet Office minister in March.
He was previously an adviser to Johnson on Brexit and led negotiations on the trade deal with Brussels, which was announced on Christmas Eve last year.
This year, Frost led the UK negotiating team in discussions over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, but did not resolve any of the outstanding issues.
Frost had repeatedly warned that the UK was ready to derail talks and trigger Article 16, which allows either side to adopt unilateral measures to protect themselves if the Brexit deal resulted in ” serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties likely to persist, or diversion of traffic”.
But Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stepped in to urge that Article 16 not be triggered before Christmas, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and Frost spoke on Friday for the last time this year on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Frost said in a statement after the meeting that the UK was willing to reach an “interim deal” with the Commission early in the new year and was prepared to put aside delicate issues such as the divergence of regulations, including for manufactured goods, for later – an apparent softening of the UK’s position.
The Mail cites a senior government source as saying Frost’s departure “was prompted by the introduction of ‘Plan B’ Covid measures, including vaccine passports”, which have been controversial among many Tories.
Nearly 100 Tory MPs rebelled in a vote in the House of Commons last week against the UK Prime Minister’s COVID-19 policy.
In his letter, Frost said the UK must “learn to live with Covid”, warning the Prime Minister not to be “tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere”.
The newspaper also said Frost was unhappy with Johnson’s tax hikes and environmental policies.
Frost is popular with conservative rank and file members. A ranking by conservative website Home put him in second place behind Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in net satisfaction ratings.
The UK government announced last week that it was delaying post-Brexit checks due January 1 on goods entering Britain from the island of Ireland.
His departure is likely to be well received in European capitals.
In Dublin, a government official said Frost’s departure would be seen with relief and could make a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol possible early in the new year.
“This effort desperately needs a dose of realism from the UK government to reach an end point, and too often it [Frost] preferred to fabricate issues rather than engage,” said the Irish official, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified.
“It is not possible to reach an agreement when one party only complains, raises new and impossible demands like the [European Court of Justice] and offers nothing constructive in response to comprehensive and reasonable proposals from Brussels. His constant threats to trigger Article 16 were always counterproductive and, in the end, bordered on the absurd. Let’s hope that his successor will abandon this act.
Julian Smith, who was secretary for Northern Ireland in former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, tweeted: “Dogma has run its course.” He said that in final negotiations with the EU, the interests of Northern Ireland “across the community must now come first”.
Who Johnson puts in Frost’s place could have huge political implications. Frost was widely trusted by Brexiteer MPs and had a good relationship with trade unionists in Northern Ireland.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who has threatened to collapse Northern Ireland’s political institutions over his party’s dissatisfaction with protocol, said in a statement that Frost had been “frustrated over several foreheads”. Frost’s departure raised “more serious questions for the prime minister and his approach to NI protocol,” he added. “The Prime Minister must now urgently decide which is more important – protocol or the stability of political institutions,” he warned.
Shawn Pogatchnik and Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.