The appointment of lord Frost as minister for taking forward our relationship with the EU is a bad sign for those hoping to renegotiate his recent ‘bare-bones’ trade deal. The message it sends to the industries and businesses across the country struggling under a mass of red tape and added costs, is to abandon hope of any early or even modest changes.
Frost’s appointment is not to negotiate future improvements but to ensure there are none. He is not likely to ask for any and, with him as their point of contact, the EU are likewise unlikely to offer any.
The announcement of Lord Frost’s elevation to the Cabinet came on the first anniversary of his pathetically antagonistic ‘lecture’ in Brussels, which in light of what he actually achieved, now looks like a Peter Cook monologue from Beyond the Fringe.
Frost himself tweeted, in what I can only assume was an attempt at satire, that he stood “on the shoulders of giants & particularly those of Michael Gove”. Gove has been described as many things, a lot of them unprintable, but a giant? Really?
It is also a slap in the face for the British people, since it coincides with a poll carried out by Opinium for the think-tank British Foreign Policy Group, which found a large majority of Britons are dissatisfied with Frost’s deal and want it overhauled. Just 24 percent think it’s the best framework for future relations with the EU. Almost half (49 percent) either want a much closer relationship with the bloc before eventually re-joining it, or would prefer a relationship resembling Norway or Switzerland’s.
Frost will apparently replace Michael Gove, who was named only three days ago as interim UK chair of the UK-EU partnership council, the body set up to settle disputes resulting from the trade agreement. Frost’s appointment looks suspiciously like a last minute cobbled together deal to placate somebody. He will also apparently take over Gove’s position as co-chair of the withdrawal agreement joint committee, a body already in difficulties over the Northern Ireland protocol.
This does not augur well for the United Kingdom. In particular, it is bad news for Northern Ireland, where the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is pressing for an agreement in principle that would align the UK with EU agri-food sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, to improve what they describe as an “absolute trading nightmare for many of our farmers”.
Industry after industry is discovering that the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA), which Frost negotiated, is only marginally better than no deal would have been. The tariff-free bit is only true if you can prove a minimum amount of local content or processing. Since we are importing a lot of goods from Asia, many British companies are finding tariffs are in fact payable when re-exporting to the EU.
The TCA was negotiated by Frost, ostensibly reporting directly to the prime minister – a man whom we know has only a very limited understanding of detail, or indeed of anything. It is obvious, to my mind, that Frost (and Cummings until he was sacked) enjoyed a pretty free hand. The deal may be what Johnson wanted in terms of sovereignty but Frost, assuming he knew, does not appear to have ever explained to him what the enormous cost was likely to be.
Johnson’s choice of Brexit minister is full of irony, since the PM sent Frost to Brussels essentially to put an end to rule by unelected bureaucrats. Frost is not only an unelected bureaucrat himself, but now an unelected member of the Cabinet. We wait to learn who will answer EU questions in the Commons, since it can’t be Frost. It does not look like an attractive job to me.
His new role cuts across that of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and perhaps goes some way to explaining why Truss was earlier this week refusing to answer questions on the EU trade deal. Assuming Frost gets to replace the Department for Exiting the EU (DEXEU), which was scrapped by Johnson last year, responsibility for EU relations will in future be spread across three Whitehall departments in what looks like a recipe for confusion and endless turf wars.
Frost set out to recover something we hadn’t lost, sovereignty, and exchanged it for some of our key industries, such as fishing. Many EU member states like the Netherlands are reaping the benefits of Brexit, with Amsterdam overtaking London in January on share trading volumes. To them, Lord Frost must resemble the Native American tribe who, as the stories say, sold Manhattan Island to Dutch traders in 1626 for a handful of beads; except in our case, the ‘beads’ were ones we already owned.
Frost’s disastrous deal is starting to look like the greatest bargain of all time – for the EU. They get the jobs and tax revenues in exchange for ‘giving’ us what we already had, sovereignty.
Yorkshire Bylines’ Digby Jones Index is providing a real-time record of the accelerating exodus of British companies into EU member states, while others remain to fight a rear-guard action against a mountain of new regulatory burdens, bureaucracy and unnecessary costs.
This Vote Leave government came to power on the promise of £350m a week they wrongly claimed we were paying for all the Brussels’ largesse. Yet we are now shovelling money and trade across the Channel without so much as a peep, and the man responsible has been rewarded with a peerage and a senior Cabinet post. Literally, you could not make it up.
Incidentally, the BFPG survey contains some fascinating insights, like this one for example.
“Considering how views on the UK’s future relationship with the EU align with newspaper readership, we can see that The Guardian’s readers are, by far, the most in favour of possibly re-joining the EU and maintaining a closer relationship in the meantime (59%). Financial Times readers are the second most likely to do so (37%), and Daily Express and Daily Mail readers (19%) are the least likely. Interestingly, 24% of Daily Mail readers believe that we should more closely align with the EU – but remain outside – the highest percentage, although its readership is also the most inclined (33%) to be satisfied with the Brexit deal. Daily Express readers are the most likely to want to move even further away from current levels of alignment (26%).”Page 47 of the report.
Note that fully a quarter of Daily Mail readers believe we should be more closely aligned with the EU and only a third are satisfied with Frost’s deal.