David Frost has quietly – almost invisibly – risen to hold an epoch-defining position in Boris Johnson’s Government. While Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove vie to be the Prime Minister’s ‘chief executives’, Lord Frost has been handed the dual responsibilities of leading the UK’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU and acting as Mr Johnson’s National Security Adviser.
It is a daunting in-tray for anyone, let alone someone who is still suffering such after-effects from the coronavirus infection he contracted in March that he struggles for breath when jogging.
But the addition of Lord Frost’s security brief is also a signal to Brussels that Downing Street expects the negotiations to be wrapped up soon, to allow Lord Frost to concentrate on the threats posed by Russia and China.
In his first interview since he started his duel with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, Lord Frost, pictured, delivers a dish-served-cold retaliation to Mrs May
When his new job was announced in June, it triggered a tart response from Theresa May, who called him a ‘political appointee with no proven expertise in national security’.
In his first interview since he started his duel with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, Lord Frost delivers a dish-served-cold retaliation to Mrs May.
With deadly understatement, he contrasts Mr Johnson’s gung-ho attitude with his predecessor’s tortuous – and ultimately doomed – attempts to strike a deal, saying that his ‘big task’ has been to ‘reset the credibility of our words’ in the wake of her administration.
Making clear that the UK side will not ‘blink first’ when the eighth round of talks start in London on Tuesday, Lord Frost said: ‘We came in after a Government and negotiating team that had blinked and had its bluff called at critical moments, and the EU had learned not to take our word seriously.
‘So a lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously’.
There have been many ‘crunch’ periods since the 2016 referendum, but the coming weeks promise to be the crunchiest of them all.
Mr Barnier – who will touch down in the UK just hours after Lord Frost takes up the Lords seat handed to him by Mr Johnson – arrives with the two sides locked in an impasse over fishing rights and Government subsidies for businesses.
If an agreement can’t be signed by December, one of the many No Deal impacts could be a revival of the ‘cod wars’ of the 1970s, with Royal Navy vessels patrolling our sovereign fishing waters.
With deadly understatement, Lord Frost contrasts Mr Johnson’s gung-ho attitude with his predecessor’s tortuous – and ultimately doomed – attempts to strike a deal
Barnier’s obduracy during the Zoom negotiations of the summer has led to mutterings in European capitals about him being elbowed aside in favour of leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Lord Frost, 55, a former diplomat who rose to become the UK’s ambassador to Norway, chooses his words with professional care, but is clearly seething about the EU’s obstinacy. ‘They have not accepted that in key areas of our national life we want to be able to control our own laws and do things our way and use the freedoms that come after Brexit,’ he says.
‘We are not going to be a client state. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws. We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things; we are not going to accept provisions that give them control over our money or the way we can organise things here in the UK and that should not be controversial – that’s what being an independent country is about, that’s what the British people voted for and that’s will happen at the end of the year, come what may’.
Barnier is flatly refusing to countenance British demands for an increase in the fishing quota reserved for UK vessels in our own waters, describing it as a ‘common resource’.
Lord Frost appears baffled that, nine months into the post-Brexit transition period, the