There is a new man on the Brexit block, as they say, and his name is David Frost. But few have heard of this elusive bureaucrat. No, he is not the famous TV interviewer of the Nixon interviews or ‘That Was the Week that Was’ (he died seven years ago), but another David Frost. This one has emerged from the bowels of Whitehall, the British diplomatic service. Frost, who joined the Foreign Office in 1987, has held some of the most prestigious positions within the service, as well as being Boris Johnson’s special adviser when he was Foreign Secretary. Now he is Johnson’s chief negotiator in the Brexit negotiations.
We can assume that Frost is intelligent, experienced, astute, and politically aligned to the present government, and is certainly a Brexiteer (my assumption). But we know very little about this David Frost, except that he appears to be a great buddy of Michael Gove and is Boris Johnson’s personal choice for the job, whose previous occupant was Sir Olly Robbins.
We know that Michael Gove is the cabinet member responsible for Brexit and that David Frost is the chief negotiator. Michael Gove’s political background is well documented, so there is just one event that may be of interest. In 2016 Gove, who was Johnson’s campaign manager for the leadership of the Conservative Party, withdrew his support on the day that Johnson was to declare, saying, “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership.” Needless to say, Mr Johnson and most people were stunned, by Gove’s words, which the Daily Telegraph described as “the most spectacular political assassination in a generation”, and ‘The Guardian’ labelled as a “Machiavellian move”. Mr Gove certainly is an ambitious politician who is quite prepared take advantage of any of Mr Johnson’s difficulties. Indeed, everyone in Westminster will be well aware of Mr Gove’s past deeds and his ambitions.
There is little doubt that the British negotiators are serious about the December deadline, but it is also correct to say that the UK government are not about to take the UK into the perilous waters of a ‘No deal Brexit’, to trade under WTO rules. It also should be noted that the Northwest and Midlands of England are those very areas that gave Mr Johnson his handsome victory some months ago, and that will be most affected economically by a ‘No deal Brexit’. Aren’t they also the same areas most affected by the Coronavirus? Shouldn’t this danger be ringing alarm bells for Mr Johnson and Mr Gove?
The EU negotiator, M Barnier, has refused to go down the road the EU took with Switzerland with a multiplicity of individual agreements on products and services. Mr Frost is presently endeavouring to do this at the moment when Barnier wants one overall agreement based on ‘a level playing field’. But could this be negotiated by the UK agreeing to pay tariffs, while the EU allows the UK to look after its own affairs relating to subsidies? M. Barnier is facing some pressure from EU countries preparing to support their own indigenous companies with state support.
So, come the Autumn, will there will be a last-minute fudge when both sides will give a little to solve their own difficulties? But the problem for Messrs Frost and Gove may be that they may have to compromise on either financial services or fisheries to achieve this fudge. Whatever happens, we are facing an interesting summer and autumn period as both sides struggle with the fallout of the pandemic and the details of the Brexit negotiations.
But above all, there is the personal issue, especially given the political activities of Mr Gove in the past. It will certainly be well worth keeping an eye on how Mr Gove gets along with both Mr Frost and Mr Johnson as negotiations move towards the final round in the Autumn.