Updated 4 hours ago
Downing Street said, after the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Frost, that British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will take charge of the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.
Frost resigned with immediate effect Saturday night, having previously agreed with the prime minister to leave his job in January.
Citing the government’s «current trend of travel», as well as concerns about «forced» Covid measures and the UK’s desire to become a «lightly regulated, low-tax» economy, Frost’s departure was described as a «watershed moment» in a week that has been very devastating for the prime minister.
Downing Street said Truss will take ministerial responsibility for the UK-EU relationship, and lead negotiations to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Chris Heaton Harris will move from the Department of Transportation to become Minister for Europe and will replace Truss when needed.
‘Issues do not change’
Earlier, European Commissioner and Irish MEP Myriad McGuinness said Frost’s departure was a surprise, but did not change the substance of the protocol issues: «The name will change but the issues will not.»
«The fear I have is that Brexit was the result of divisions within the Conservative Party, and from what I’ve been reading, those divisions haven’t gone away,» she told RTÉ’s This Week.
She said that in recent weeks there had been a shift by the UK government regarding oversight of the European Court of Justice, which Frost’s negotiating team had been pushing aggressively during talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
David Frost, who has led negotiations with the European Union, reportedly handed his resignation letter to Boris Johnson last week with an agreement to leave in January.
But in a letter to the Prime Minister issued yesterday evening, he said he was «disappointed that this plan became public this evening and in the circumstances I believe it is appropriate for me to write to resign with immediate effect».
David Frost thanked Johnson and said: “Brexit is now safe,” but said: “The challenge for the government now is to provide the opportunities it offers us.
Frost told Johnson he had «concerns about the current direction of travel,» with government decisions on coronavirus regulations and tax increases reportedly being among those issues, as well as the potential for a turnaround in activating Article 16.
He also said he was sad that the lifting of the Covid restrictions did not prove to be «irreversible» as promised, and added: «I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we’ve seen elsewhere.»
He wanted the UK to become a «lightly regulated and low-tax» country.
Lord Frost is now stepping down with immediate effect, not waiting until January as planned pic.twitter.com/v47z5n1DKE
– SamCoatesSky (@SamCoatesSky) December 18 2021
In his response, Johnson expressed his «deep regret» for receiving his resignation.
Appointed to Johnson’s so-called EU Sherpa shortly after the British leader took office in July 2019, Frost became chief trade negotiator after helping finalize a Brexit divorce deal last year.
Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath told RTÉ’s This Week that the Irish government does not expect David Frost’s resignation to derail progress on the protocol that has been made in recent weeks.
“From our point of view in Ireland, our bottom line remains unchanged: there are no hard limits under any circumstances on the island of Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement is protected at all costs and Ireland’s place at the heart of the European single market is safeguarded.”
He said Northern Ireland had «the best of both worlds» under the protocol, with access to markets in Great Britain and in the European Union, adding: «We’re already seeing the economic benefits of that for the North, so we want those assets to be protected.»
Northern Ireland’s reaction
In Northern Ireland, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said David Frost’s departure was a bad sign of Johnson’s commitment to removing the Irish Sea border.
Donaldson said: «This government is scattered by internal conflict, and Lord Frost has been frustrated on a number of fronts.
“We wish David well. We have enjoyed a strong relationship with him and his team, but this raises more serious questions for the Prime Minister and his approach to the NI protocol.”
David Frost is tasked with finding a way to solve problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which aims to avoid a difficult border on the island of Ireland.
The implementation of the Protocol caused problems with customs, agri-food, trade, and medicine being sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
This week’s action has been found on medicines, but red lines remain for both parties, including for the UK’s oversight role of the European Court of Justice.
David Frost said this week that he expects negotiations with the European Union to continue until 2022.
Stormont’s first deputy minister, Michelle O’Neill, said Northern Ireland would not become «collateral damage in the Tory chaos».
She wrote on Twitter: «David Frost negotiated Brexit and the majority rejected here. The protocol has since been undermined, limiting the damage Brexit will have to our people and economy.»
«Now we need momentum in the talks to make it work better.
«The North will not be collateral damage in the Tory chaos.»
Former Northern Ireland Minister Arlene Foster described Frost’s resignation as «enormous».
She tweeted: «Lord Frost’s resignation from Cabinet is a huge moment for the government but a massive one for those of us who thought he would get it done for NI.»
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Conservative Party Rebellion
Boris Johnson is already suffering a rebellion by 100 of his deputies in a parliamentary vote due to coronavirus measures and the loss of 23,000 seats in a by-election – as well as ongoing allegations about parties in Whitehall during lockdown restrictions.
Tory Andrew Bridgen, a prominent supporter of Brexit, told Radio Times that Frost’s departure was a «devastating blow to the government and the prime minister» and suggested that many Conservative colleagues would consider the prime minister’s future over Christmas.
In a tweet, he added, Johnson is «running out of time and friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government.»
He said: «Lord Frost made it clear, 100 Conservatives made it clear, but most importantly the people of North Shropshire did it.»
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Leila Moran said: «This sudden resignation is a sign of the chaos and confusion at the heart of this conservative government.
“Mice are fleeing Boris Johnson’s sinking ship as he teeters from one crisis to the next.
“Even the prime minister’s formerly loyal supporters are now abandoning him, just as lifelong Conservative voters are turning in their numbers to the Liberal Democrats.
«At a time when we need strong leadership to get us out of the pandemic, we instead have a weak prime minister who has lost the support of his allies and the trust of the British people.»
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