Boris Johnson suffered another hammer blow today as his ally Lord Frost dramatically quit slating Covid curbs and high taxes – with furious Tories demanding the PM sacks his chief-of-staff to avoid being ousted himself.
The Brexit minister, up to now a close ally of Mr Johnson, walked out with a parting shot at the ‘direction of travel’ and saying he had hoped the end of lockdown would be ‘irreversible’.
The departure immediately sparked an extraordinary new wave of anger on Conservative WhatsApp groups, with MPs branding the development a ‘disaster’ and a ‘watershed moment’.
Mutinous backbenchers have been retweeting messages suggesting that it might be ‘too late’ for the premier to save himself, after the massive mutiny over Plan B curbs last week and weeks of misery over sleaze allegations and the Downing Street ‘Partygate’ scandal. It could make it even harder for Mr Johnson to push through new restrictions to combat the surging Omicron variant, despite scientists warning mixing between households should be banned at Christmas.
Nikki da Costa, a former No10 aide and friend of Lord Frost, warned that the ‘whole system’ in No 10 ‘doesn’t work’.
Echoing the views of many MPs, she told the Sunday Telegraph that Dan Rosenfield, a former Treasury official who replaced Dominic Cummings in Downing Street in late 2020, was partly responsible because he lacked ‘political sensibility’.
‘He doesn’t like challenge,’ she said.
Lord Frost, who negotiated Britain’s departure from the EU as Brexit Minister, is understood to have been persuaded to delay his resignation until January after giving notice to Mr Johnson a week ago.
However, after the Mail on Sunday exclusively revealed he was departing, the peer brought forward his departure.
A senior Government source said it was prompted by the introduction of ‘Plan B’ Covid measures, including vaccine passports. But that was just the final straw after months of growing discontent over tax rises and the staggering cost of ‘net zero’ environmental policies.
Conservative MPs are increasingly talking about a challenge to the Prime Minister’s leadership within the next six months, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leading the field of contenders.
Messages from a Whatsapp group of more than 100 Tory MPs titled ‘Clean Global Brexit’, showed Andrew Bridgen describing the move as a ‘disaster’ while Theresa Villiers calls it ‘very worrying’.
Culture minister Nadine Dorries described Mr Johnson as a ‘hero’ and then appeared to be removed from the group before rebel ringleader Steve Baker wrote: ‘Enough is enough’.
In his letter, released by Downing Street, Lord Frost praised Mr Johnson’s work to implement the EU referendum result, but added: ‘Brexit is now secure. The challenge for the Government now is to deliver on the opportunities it gives us.
‘You know my concerns about the current direction of travel. I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change.’
Making clear his frustration with Mr Johnson’s strategy on the pandemic, he added: ‘We also need to learn to live with Covid and I know that is your instinct too. You took a brave decision in July, against considerable opposition, to open up the country again.
‘Sadly it did not prove to be irreversible, as I wished, and believe you did too. I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.’
In his reply, Mr Johnson expressed his sadness at Lord Frost’s departure but praised his ‘unique contribution towards getting Brexit done’.
Cabinet Minister Lord Frost has dramatically resigned from Boris Johnson’s Government, The Mail on Sunday can reveal
Lord Frost’s resignation became a controversial move among some Conservative MPs, messages from a WhatsApp group reveal. In a group of more than 100 MPs titled ‘Clean Global Brexit’, Andrew Bridgen describes the move as a ‘disaster’ and Theresa Villiers calls it ‘very worrying’, Sky News reports. Culture minister Nadine Dorries described Mr Johnson as a ‘hero’ and then appears to be removed from the group before Steve Baker writes ‘Enough is enough’
Steve Baker says ‘we have troubles enough in our immediate future’ following the resignation of Lord Frost
Former Cabinet minister Lord Frost is seen arriving at 10 Downing Street on November 24, 2021
Pictured: Lord Frost’s resignation letter to Boris Johnson, telling the Prime Minister ‘you know my concerns about the current direction of travel’
Pictured: Boris Johnson’s letter to Lord Frost, saying he was ‘very sorry to receive’ his resignation, ‘given everything you have achieved and contributed to this Government’
IN FULL: LORD FROST’S RESIGNATION LETTER
I have led our EU exit process for the two and half years since you became Prime Minister.
In those years we have restored the UK’s freedom and independence as a country and begun the process of building a new relationship with the EU.
That will be a long-term task. That is why we agreed earlier this month that I would move on in January and hand over the baton to others to manage our future relationship with the EU.
It is disappointing that this plan has become public this evening and in the circumstances I think it is right for me to write to step down with immediate effect.
Brexit is now secure. The challenge for the Government now is to deliver on the opportunities it gives us.
You know my concerns about the current direction of travel. I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change.
Three hundred years of history show that countries which take that route grow and prosper, and I am confident we will too.
We also need to learn to live with Covid and I know that is your instinct too.
You took a brave decision in July, against considerable opposition, to open up the country again.
Sadly it did not prove to be irreversible, as I wished, and believe you did too. I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.
Together we have put this country onto a new path. I am confident that under your leadership this newly free Britain can succeed and prosper hugely.
I wish you and the Government every success in that.
He added: ‘Many said that it would be impossible to secure such a comprehensive agreement … in such short time, even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
‘It simply would not have been possible without your relentless hard work, resolve and vision. You should be immensely proud of your historic service to this Government and this country.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Lord Frost was ‘principled’ – referring to his own resignation as Chancellor before the pandemic when Mr Cummings sacked his advisers.
The Health Secretary, speaking on Trevor Phillips On Sky News, said: “I’ve had the privilege of working with him now for a couple of years. I think he’s an outstanding public servant and I think that the way Brexit was done and how we achieved those successes, he’s been a central architect of that, so I wish him the best.
“But I do understand his reasons, he’s a principled man, you know, principled people do resign from the government – I know all about that – and that’s something… that’s a decision for him to take.”
Lord Frost’s dramatic move – triggered by his growing ‘disillusionment’ with the direction of Tory policy – has sparked yet another crisis within a beleaguered Downing Street.
The revelation is the latest blow for the embattled Mr Johnson, following a Commons rebellion of 100 Tory MPs over the ‘Plan B’ measures and the loss of a 23,000 majority in the North Shropshire by-election amid the ‘partygate’ row over celebrations inside No 10.
Sources said that Lord Frost’s bombshell has caused ‘panic’ inside No 10. The Government source said: ‘Lord Frost has been among the strongest advocates inside the Cabinet for keeping the country open and for avoiding further legislative control measures to deal with the pandemic. He believes that vaccine passports are an inappropriate measure on principle.
‘The new Covid regulations added to his disillusionment with the policy direction of the Government in recent months, including his opposition to recent tax rises and the net zero prioritisation. He has made clear in recent public speeches that he does not believe a European-style high-tax, high-spend economic model that has been pursued by Downing Street is likely to deliver the benefits of Brexit.’
Lord Frost’s stance reflects Mr Sunak’s concerns about being strong-armed by No 10 into introducing measures such as the 1.25 percentage point hike in National Insurance to tackle the NHS backlog and reform long-term care, and the ‘net zero’ plan to decarbonise the economy by 2050, which some estimates have said will cost as much as £1.4 trillion.
The source added that despite the policy differences with No 10, Lord Frost’s departure appeared to be on good terms.
A senior Government insider said that there were lots of factors behind Lord Frost’s decision to move on.
But the source said they thought that, in particular, he had ‘had enough of his current role which involved endless, exhausting skirmishes with Brussels.’
Lord Frost’s resignation will come as a particular blow because he was known within Government as ‘Boris’s Brexit brain’. He led the UK’s negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement during the transition period, and the current disputes over Northern Ireland.
The infamous Northern Ireland Protocol keeps the border with the Republic open but requires checks on goods from Britain, which has led to certain products – such as sausages and oak trees – being blocked from entering the province under EU rules.
His departure also means the loss of one of the most popular Cabinet Ministers. In the most recent survey of Conservative MPs, he recorded a net satisfaction rating of 73.3 per cent, second only to Ms Truss and ahead of Mr Sunak. Lord Frost’s resignation comes just as Mr Johnson was plotting a New Year ‘relaunch’ for the Government, understood to involve a shake-up of his No 10 team, a clear-out of his Whips Office – including Chief Whip Mark Spencer – and a limited ministerial reshuffle.
The mass Commons rebellion has exposed fault lines in No 10’s relationship with the Parliamentary party, which leaves Mr Johnson exposed to the prospect of a vote of no confidence and, if he loses that, a contest for a new leader.
A confidence vote is triggered if 54 Tory MPs send letters to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, calling for one.
Prime Minster Boris Johnson speaks with members of the Metropolitan Police in their break room, as he makes a constituency visit to Uxbridge police station on December 17, 2021
A senior Government source said Lord Frost’s departure had been prompted by the introduction of ‘Plan B’ Covid measures, including vaccine passports
Rees-Mogg and Tory Chief Whip ‘vulnerable’ in mini-reshuffle
Boris Johnson plans to ‘reboot’ his embattled Government by sacking his Commons ‘enforcer’ in an attempt to repair the fractured relations between No 10 and his restless Parliamentary party.
Sources said that after last week’s revolt by nearly 100 Tories over Covid restrictions, the Prime Minister was planning to ‘clear out’ the Whips Office, including Chief Whip Mark Spencer, in a small, targeted reshuffle.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who with Mr Spencer helped to persuade Mr Johnson to back Owen Paterson in the sleaze row that caused another revolt and led to the loss of North Shropshire in Thursday’s by-election, is seen as vulnerable.
The hunt is also under way for a potential replacement for Mr Johnson’s Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfeld as Mr Johnson heeds calls to make the No 10 operation more muscular and experienced.
Although the coming months are expected to still be dominated by Covid and the booster campaign as cases surge, the Prime Minister is hoping to reinject momentum into his domestic agenda by publishing the delayed ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper.
It has been written by the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Andy Haldane, the former chief economist at the Bank of England. Their plans – to redistribute resources from the wealthy south to deprived areas – are expected to include the proposal to replace all 24 existing county councils and 181 district councils with elected mayoralties and create American-style governors for rural areas.
It has been claimed that Mr Johnson was angered that the plans, which are an effective manifesto for the second part of his Premiership, were too ‘blue sky’ and lacking in concrete detail.
The total is always kept strictly secret by Sir Graham, but the number of MPs threatening to do so has increased sharply since the by-election loss.
Downing Street is also waiting nervously for the results of a Cabinet Office investigation into ‘partygate’, which has itself been plunged into chaos. Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who had been chosen to lead the investigation, stepped aside on Friday after it emerged an event was held in his own office in December last year.
A quiz was held for members of Mr Case’s private office with invites sent out titled ‘Christmas Party!’ It took place on December 17, the day before the No 10 ‘cheese and wine’ gathering which forms part of Mr Case’s investigation. The probe will now be concluded by senior civil servant Sue Gray
Senior Tory sources say that if the by-election had been held a fortnight ago, before the partygate storm broke, they would have held the seat, which they lost to the Liberal Democrats.
They believe Mr Johnson will ‘tough out’ the rest of the winter – helped by the sense of national emergency created by the surge in Covid cases due to the Omicron variant – but face a serious threat in the spring as a result of May’s local elections.
Theresa May increased the party’s haul of council seats by 550 the last time they were contested in May 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader.
But her feat means Mr Johnson is likely to sustain morale-sapping losses next time around. MPs allied to Ms May are helping to foment opposition to Mr Johnson, out of revenge for the political trouble he caused her over Brexit when she was PM.
If members want to ditch Mr Johnson, they are likely to want to do so well in advance of the next General Election, due by 2024.
Lord Frost has also grown increasingly frustrated by his wrangles with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in the Brexit negotiations, threatening to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol by triggering Article 16 if agreement cannot be reached.
Writing for The Mail on Sunday last month, Lord Frost referred to the ‘intensive and sometimes dramatic argument with the EU’ over the protocol and called for ‘more ambition and more urgency’, saying: ‘The core of the problem is that all kinds of goods are not getting to Northern Ireland in the way that they do to the rest of our country, or face extra costs and delays if they do. That’s not fair on consumers in Northern Ireland.’
He previously sounded a warning about high-tax, high-spend policies at speeches to the Tory conference and to the Margaret Thatcher conference, run by the Centre For Policy Studies think-tank, last month.
Lord Frost was not available for comment last night.
The former ambassador and whisky buff who went back into Government to work for Boris
Lord Frost was made a minister in the Cabinet Office in February this year, having served as Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator since July 2019.
He led the UK team during trade talks with Brussels which came to a successful conclusion in December last year.
With the trade deal now in the books, he had been due to become National Security Adviser in the coming weeks but he will now be sticking with the Brexit brief.
Born in Derby, Mr Frost won a scholarship to Nottingham High School before going on to study French and history at St John’s College, Oxford. He joined the Foreign Office in 1987, with his first posting taking him to the British High Commission in Cyprus.
In 1993 he experienced his first taste of working with the EU when he was posted to Brussels as first secretary for economic and financial affairs. He was then sent to the United Nations.
Between 2006 and 2008 he was Britain’s ambassador to Denmark before becoming the UK’s most senior trade policy official in the business department. He left the diplomatic service in 2013 to head the Scotch Whisky Association – but when Mr Johnson became foreign secretary he returned to government as his special adviser.
He also served as a member of the advisory council of Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think-tank.
When Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, Mr Frost came back on board and duly negotiated the deal which enabled Britain to leave the EU at the end of January last year before then moving onto to trade discussions with the bloc.
ANNA MIKHAILOVA: The Great Frost who learned to negotiate from the Kremlin
A rare Brexiteer in Whitehall, Lord Frost has made his name fighting Britain’s battles with Brussels in the face of barefaced threats and hostile rhetoric.
His fearsome reputation at the negotiating table prompted Boris Johnson to declare him the ‘Greatest Frost since the Great Frost of 1709’ in his conference speech this year.
The pair have been allies since Mr Johnson was Foreign Secretary. And when he became Prime Minister, Mr Johnson appointed the former career diplomat to take charge of the negotiations where Theresa May and her chief negotiator, Olly Robbins had failed.
Known as ‘Boris’s Brexit brain’ in Downing Street, Lord David Frost, 56, graduated from Oxford with a first-class degree in history and medieval French.
A rare Brexiteer in Whitehall, Lord Frost has made his name fighting Britain’s battles with Brussels in the face of barefaced threats and hostile rhetoric
He started his career as a diplomat in the Foreign Office, where his roles included being posted to Brussels and serving as ambassador to Denmark.
He left the civil service in 2013 to head the Scotch Whisky Association. At the time he wrote a pamphlet on negotiating with the EU which advised: ‘Make what you want seem normal.’
He was brought back into the government fold by Mr Johnson to advise him as Foreign Secretary, who then made him chief Brexit negotiator in 2019.
Mr Johnson subsequently praised his ‘Herculean efforts in securing a deal with the EU’.
During his talks with Brussels, Lord Frost drew on tips from a book called The Kremlin School of Negotiation, written by Igor Ryzov, an expert in hardball tactics from the KGB era.
The book, published in the UK in 2019, offers insights into Soviet tradecraft and tips such as putting opponents into a zone of uncertainty where ‘fear is the most powerful weapon’. And it describes Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, as a master of the techniques.
He was brought back into the government fold by Mr Johnson to advise him as Foreign Secretary, who then made him chief Brexit negotiator in 2019
Last year Mr Johnson gave Lord Frost joint responsibilities of leading post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU and acting as National Security Adviser.
The security appointment prompted a tart comment from Mrs May who called him a ‘political appointee with no proven expertise in national security.’
However Lord Frost never took up the job full-time and instead retained a focus on negotiations with the EU, as well as taking up a seat in the House of Lords.
His title since March last year has been Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, and he has been a full member of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet.
Since Britain left the EU, Lord Frost has been leading the post-Brexit trade negotiations, taking a notably tough line and publicly saying he is not afraid of ripping up the Northern Ireland protocol.
He took to Twitter to attack ‘French rhetoric and threats’ over fisheries after a French minister said the EU could hit the UK’s energy supply.
In a significant speech in Portugal in October, Lord Frost laid down the gauntlet to the EU and said it ‘doesn’t always look like’ the bloc wants the UK to succeed.
He said it will ‘take two’ to repair the ‘fractious’ relationship between Britain and Brussels.
But sources said Lord Frost has recently privately bemoaned the lack of movement over the protocol, and has said Mr Johnson is too distracted by other issues.
Privately Lord Frost says Mr Johnson isn’t ‘focused’ on the Northern Ireland talks, but when the PM does concentrate, he provides the political will to get talks over the line
Privately he says Mr Johnson isn’t ‘focused’ on the Northern Ireland talks, but when the PM does concentrate, he provides the political will to get talks over the line.
Last week, critics accused the Government of ‘going soft’ in its approach to the protocol as it announced negotiations would be rolled into the new year with a new deadline of the end of February.
Married to his second wife Harriet, Lord Frost has two children from his first marriage. He is a keen runner – but sources said he eased back last year when he suffered Covid symptoms.