Brexit minister Lord David Frost has quit the UK government in the latest wrack-up to Boris Johnson’s authority.
The cabinet minister’s throw-away from government during such an intense period of negotiations with Brussels is likely to increase Eurosceptic fears that Johnson is capitulating on post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.
It is understood Johnson is no longer seeking the firsthand axing of the European Magistrate of Justice from its role in enforcing the so-called Northern Ireland protocol. Such a move would undermine the negotiating position of Frost, who has been a vocal critic of the ECJ.
Allies of Frost confirmed he felt he had reached the “end of the road” in his negotiations with Brussels.
The UK is expected to tell the EU that governance issues can wait until they have well-set on practical ways to modernize the spritz of goods between the region and the rest of the UK.
The UK has indicated that it could winnow an mediation mechanism of the kind that governs other elements of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, which leaves the ECJ as the textbook of EU law but puts the magistrate at one remove from resolving disputes over the protocol.
Frost is moreover understood to have voiced concerns with Johnson over sweeping new coronavirus restrictions imposed by the prime minister to gainsay the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Government officials said the cabinet minister is moreover concerned by the government’s move to hike taxes towards their highest level since 1950, as well as the forfeit associated with reaching a target for net zero emissions by 2050.
Officials confirmed Frost handed his resignation letter to the prime minister last week but well-set to stay in the role until January, as first reported by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, Jenny Chapman, tweeted: “As if we didn’t once 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.”
Frost’s opposition to the government’s measures to deal with the new coronavirus variant reflects growing unease within the Conservative party, who fear Johnson is presiding over a ‘lockdown by stealth’.
Johnson suffered a humiliating rebellion on Tuesday when scrutinizingly 100 Tory MPs voted versus a requirement for a negative test or vaccine document to enter mass events. The measure passed with Labour support.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who has threatened to pull his ministers out of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive unless surcharge checks between Britain and Northern Ireland are scrapped, said in a statement that Frost’s exit was a bad sign for the UK government’s transferral to removing the Irish Sea border.
He said Johnson’s government was “distracted by internal strife and Lord Frost was stuff frustrated on a number of fronts. We wish David well”.
“This protocol has been a tightly rabble-rousing deal for the people we represent. The prime minister must now urgently decide which is increasingly important — the protocol or the stability of political institutions,” he added.
Michelle O’Neille, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, tweeted: “David Frost negotiated Brexit of which a majority here rejected. He has undermined the Protocol since, which limits the forfeiture of Brexit on our people and economy. We now need momentum in the Talks to make it work better. The North will not be collateral forfeiture in the Tory chaos.”
Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, urged a speedy replacement with someone “who understands the issues that need to be dealt with”.
Like all unionist leaders, he has criticised the post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland. “There are certainly trading benefits from the protocol and we must exploit those but there are moreover serious issues that must be dealt with,” he said.
additional reporting by Jude Webber in Dublin