Nadhim Zahawi champions Dominic Cummings on this site today. We won’t follow him by writing either a defence of or attack on Boris Johnson’s best-known adviser: one ConservativeHome article on Cummings will do for the day.
Though we will pause to point out again that the adviser is serving as a lightning-conductor for the politician, and that Cummings doesn’t always get his way. Think Huawei, HS2, or Sajid Javid, who he wanted to see moved from the Treasury, rather than given an option to stay.
Instead, we draw attention to a Number Ten adviser who has even more power than Cummings. For when was the last time that the Government’s policy on the most compelling political issue of the day was advanced in a speech by an adviser?
We refer to David Frost, who earlier this week presented the core of the Government’s case in part two of the Brexit talks – strictly speaking, trade talks. “We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country,” he told his audience.
“We aren’t frightened by suggestions there is going to be friction, there is going to be greater barriers. We know that and have factored this in and we look further forward – to the gains of the future.” ConservativeHome has reproduced the entire text.
Now you may or may not take Frost’s words at face value. On the one hand, Boris Johnson doesn’t always stick to his commitments. Remember leaving on October 31, “do or die”? (The British people made a big decision when this didn’t take place: namely, that he wanted it to happen, was willing it to happen…but was frustrated by others.)
More to the point, the adapted deal which he reached with the EU – Brexit Part One if you like – marked a retreat from the UK position on Northern Ireland, since it accepted a border in the Irish Sea, rather than a land border on the island of Ireland. The future scale and extent of that border is vigorously debated.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister was previously operating with no majority at all, and a nest of prominent critics on the backbenches: Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Rory Stewart Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve. Now they are all gone and he has a majority of 80.
Either way, Cummings may write the occasional freelance blog, but Frost was speaking for the Government on Monday. He is a trusted member of the Johnson circle, having served as his Special Adviser when he was Foreign Secretary.
Frost is also unusual for having been that rare animal, a convinced Eurosceptic in the Foreign Office, which has been institutionally committed to the European cause since the age of Michael Palliser. He is a former Ambassador to Denmark, Foreign Office EU Director, and Trade Director at the Business Department.
Perhaps a politician should have made the speech instead. But who? There is no Brexit Department and no Brexit Secretary. It is not yet clear from the reshuffle which department will support the negotiation, though it is presumed that this will be the Cabinet Office and therefore, by extension, be headed up by Michael Gove.
At any rate, the Prime Minister clearly wanted to send a signal. Frost speaks for me. What he says is what I believe. What he pronounces is what I will do. He is His Master’s Voice. Frost is not the man to get himself in the media, be doorstepped, wear a bobble hat, or quote from PJ Masks.
Come to think of it, he is just about the last person, if one looks around the serried ranks of people who count in Downing Street, to be classified as a “weirdo or a misfit with odd skills”. What he offers is very mainstream.