Lord Frost resigns from government in fresh crisis for Boris Johnson

‘The country needs leadership not a lame duck PM’ says Labour

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 19 December 2021 13:56
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Lord Frost resigns as Brexit minister

Brexit minister David Frost has resigned from Boris Johnson’s cabinet in protest at “the direction of travel,” triggering a fresh crisis inside Downing Street after an already turbulent week for the prime minister.

Lord Frost – one of the most popular members of the cabinet among the Conservative faithful – handed in his resignation a week ago and had been persuaded to stay in his post until January but last night said he would step down “with immediate effect.”

His resignation represents a major political blow for the prime minister who is already facing a series of crises over “gatherings” in No 10 during Covid restrictions, growing discontent on the Tory backbenches over his leadership and this week’s historic loss in the North Shropshire by-election – a seat held by the party since 1832.

In his resignation letter, Lord Frost told the prime minister he was disappointed about Covid restrictions, warning him not to be “tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere,” but also hinted at other concerns, saying: “You know my concerns about the current direction of travel.”

The cabinet minister, who Mr Johnson had elevated to the Lords, helped negotiate the Brexit agreement and in recent months has been instrumental in negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.

His departure will fuel speculation about the future of Mr Johnson’s leadership, but in his letter Lord Frost was careful to express “confidence” in the PM. On Friday, Tory MPs put Mr Johnson on notice while one backbencher revealed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister to the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs.

Jenny Chapman, the shadow Brexit secretary, said: “As if we didn’t already know, Lord Frost resigning shows the government’s in chaos.

“The country needs leadership not a lame duck PM whose MPs and cabinet have lost faith in him. Boris Johnson needs to apologise to the public and explain what his plan is for the next few weeks.”

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, added: “This shock resignation is a sign of the chaos and confusion at the heart of this Conservative government. The rats are fleeing Boris Johnson’s sinking ship as he lurches from crisis to crisis.

“Even the prime minister’s once-loyal supporters are now abandoning him, just as lifelong Conservative voters are switching in their droves to the Liberal Democrats.

“At a time we need strong leadership to get us through the pandemic we instead have a weak prime minister who has lost the support of his allies and the trust of the British people.”

On Friday, it had also emerged the UK had abandoned its attempt to strip EU judges of the power to oversee the Northern Ireland protocol – despite repeated pledges by Lord Frost and the government to “remove” the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In October, Lord Frost travelled to Lisbon and vowed the ECJ would not be allowed to have a remit, but new UK proposals would see it interpret matters of EU law.

Disputes would be settled by an independent arbitration panel, rather than the European Commission, a model offered to Brussels by Switzerland. At a Brussels press conference, Maros Sefcovic, the commission vice-president, said the UK signed up to the ECJ’s existing remit, so it was “a topic we are not ready to include in our discussions”.

Describing Lord Frost’s decision to leave the cabinet as “enormous”, Arlene Foster, the former first minister of Northern Ireland, said: “The resignation of Lord Frost from the Cabinet is a big moment for the government but enormous for those of us who believed he would deliver for NI.’’

In a recent speech to the Centre of Policy Studies, the Brexit minister said he agreed with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, that the Conservatives’ “goal must be to reduce taxes” and said Brexit won’t succeed if “all we do is import the European social model”.

He was also effusive in his praise of the lack of Covid restrictions during the 23 November speech, saying: “Unavoidably, we have had a lot of state direction and control during the pandemic.

“That cannot and must not last for ever, and I am glad that it is not. I am very happy that free Britain, or at least merry England, is probably now the free-est country in the world as regards Covid restrictions. No mask rules, no vaccine passports – and long may it remain so.”

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