Johnson's Brexit Chief Quits in Another Blow to U.K. Leader




  • In Business
  • 2021-12-18 21:35:10Z
  • By Bloomberg
 

(Bloomberg) -- Lord Frost, the cabinet minister in charge of the U.K.'s post-Brexit negotiations, has resigned his position, an official said Saturday, dealing a body blow to Boris Johnson's government already beset by inquiries and infighting over how to respond to a surge in coronavirus cases.

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Frost's move was sparked by his growing "disillusionment" with the direction of Conservative Party policy, according to an earlier report in the Daily Mail. He tendered his resignation a week ago and Johnson convinced him to stay in his post until next month.

Spokespeople for No. 10 Downing Street and Frost's office declined to comment.

Frost's departure was triggered by the introduction of so-called Plan B measures -- including vaccine passports -- to combat the spread of the omicron variant, the report said. With U.K. infections surging and the government's chief scientific advisers warning that cases in England could be running in the hundreds of thousands a day, speculation is rife that the Cabinet, of which Frost is a member, is discussing further lockdown measures.

The sudden resignation adds to the sense of crisis around a prime minister who has suffered embarrassments in recent weeks and, for a populist premier, an unprecedented slump in popularity. Only yesterday, the civil servant charged with investigating allegations that government officials held lockdown-busting parties last year had to quit because he himself had hosted a similar gathering.

Election Rout

During the week, Johnson also had to endure the withering result of a special election as voters in a historically safe Tory seat handed the party a resounding defeat. Earlier, the prime minister suffered the biggest Conservative rebellion of his tenure when 100 members of Parliament opposed his strategy for clamping down on the new variant.

The main opposition Labour Party leapt on the latest development.

"The government is in chaos," said Baroness Jenny Chapman, the shadow minister of state at the Cabinet Office. "The country needs leadership not a lame duck PM who has lost the faith of his MPs and cabinet."

Frost's previous comments suggest that parliament vote was the last straw for a politician held dear by rank-and-file Tories for his no-nonsense negotiating on Brexit. He is, according to the most recent Conhome poll, the second-most popular Cabinet minister among Tory grassroots.

In a speech in November, Frost noted that a low tax base, combined with light-touch regulation, were key to the U.K.'s fortunes, while he also championed personal freedom and responsibility.

'The formula for success as a country is well known," he said at the time. "Low taxes -- I agree with the Chancellor (Rishi Sunak), as he said in his Budget speech, our goal must be to reduce taxes."

Hardball

Frost was the person who led the negotiations over Brexit, Johnson's signature move as leader, and the two men had seen eye to eye in their efforts to play hardball with the European Union.

Frost has been threatening to suspend some U.K. obligations under the Brexit agreement and persuaded EU negotiators to offer a serious of concessions relating to the status of Northern Ireland.

Still, the U.K. government has dialed back its threats in recent weeks as the political pressure on Johnson rose. On Friday, Frost issued a conciliatory statement saying he was happy to let talks with the EU run into the new year.

(Adds comment from opposition in eigth paragraph)

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