It will be a matter of opinion whether or not the deal turns out inspection to be good, bad or somewhere in the middle. It is a matter of fact that it would have less of a chance of being supported by Brexiteers if it had not been negotiated by David Frost.
The Prime Minister’s Chief Negiotiator, now Lord Frost, and Oliver Lewis, Boris Johnson’s adviser on Brexit, have played an indispensable role on crafting first the revised Withdrawal Agreement, and then this trade deal – winning the trust of the pro-Leave MPs who helped to bring down Theresa May’s version and her premiership itself.
First time round, Frost and Lewis were instrumental in briefing the Europe Research Group about why Johnson’s version of the Agreement was different to May’s: one senior ERG figure refers to these discussions as “negotiations”.
The key elements were the dropping of a UK-wide backstop; of “high regulatory alignment” as outlined in May’s Chequers proposal, and of the potential making of executive decisions by civil servants in a join committee. The ERG officers recommended that its members support the proposed Agreement. They will have been in touch with Frost and his team during the arduous year since the last election.
Frost has been one of the few senior diplomats to have emerged from the Foreign Office – he is a former Ambassador to Denmark – who first got the point of Brexit, and then threw his weight behind it.
Having first served at Johnson’s Special Adviser at the Foreign Office, Frost went with him into Downing Street when he became Prime Minister. And it was Frost – rather than Michael Gove, the Cabinet Minister responsible for Brexit – who delivered a speech last February explaining the philosophy that underpinned the Government’s negotiating position.
“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, he told his audience.
“We bring to the negotiations not some clever tactical positioning but the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country,” he also said. This site described him, and not Dominic Cummings, as “the Johnson adviser with the most power” at the time.
Frost will now move on to concentrate on his role as the Prime Minister’s National Security. We pointed out when his appointment was criticised by the usual suspects that, as a former Director of the Foreign Office’s Policy Planning Staff, Frost is no less well qualified for the post than some of his predecessors (and more than Kim Darroch when the latter was appointed to the role).
So though we wait now to read the details of the agreement, we nonetheless hail the commitment of Frost and Lewis to their negotiating brief, and acknowledge that, without the dedication of this pair of Eurosceptics, it is unlikely to have been reached in its final form. So: a very merry Christmas to David Frost.