Liz Truss handed ‘poisoned fruit’ of Brexit brief after David Frost’s exit

Departure of key ally a ‘body blow’ to prime minister after tough few weeks

Liz Truss
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been tasked with resolving the ongoing issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol after David Frost quit as Brexit minister.

Frost, who was elevated to the Lords and the cabinet by Boris Johnson to negotiate the Brexit deal, departed with immediate effect on Saturday night, citing concerns about the government’s “direction of travel”.

In a letter to Johnson, he called for a “lightly regulated, low-tax” economy and urged Downing Street not to be “tempted by the kind of coercive measures” seen elsewhere to tackle Covid.

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Frost a ‘painful’ loss for Johnson

In The Spectator, James Forsyth called Frost’s resignation a “body blow” for Johnson. “He has lost the man who negotiated his Brexit deal, the person he used to reassure hardline Brexiteers he wasn’t going soft,” said Forsyth. In the letter, Frost called Johnson “an outstanding leader at a moment of grave constitutional crisis”, but Forsyth said Frost “will know” how much his departure will weaken the prime minister. “There’s little doubt that it will be seen by a group of Tory MPs as a signal to put letters in.”

It comes after the prime minister saw the “the biggest parliamentary rebellion of his time in office and by-election defeat in a seat held by the Tories for almost two centuries”, said The Sunday Times. Yet the paper added that Frost’s departure is “arguably more fundamental and symbolic than that” as it indicates that the “Conservatives have lost their soul under Johnson”.

David Frost watches Boris Johnson sign the Brexit trade deal

David Frost watches Boris Johnson sign the Brexit trade deal on 30 December 2020
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Frost “practically oozed red, white and blue”, but “it was his claim to represent not just Britain, but the prime minister, that made him such a rarity within the cabinet”, said The Sunday Times. His resignation will therefore have been “more painful for Johnson than many of the others during his premiership”.

A ‘monster brief’ for Truss

Abolishing the role of dedicated Brexit minister, Johnson has handed Frost’s responsibilities back to the Foreign Office. The Telegraph thinks this will be seen as a “boon” to Truss, who is “already popular with Conservative members and has been touted as a future party leader”.

However, the paper noted that she will have to resolve the dispute over the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Ireland – and the expansion of her portfolio will raise questions about how much time she will have to dedicate “to plotting a leadership challenge”.

Truss now has “a lot of jobs”, said Jessica Parker, the BBC Brussels correspondent: foreign secretary, minister for women and equalities, and lead negotiator with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol. “This is a monster brief,” she said. And, however confident Truss might feel, she is “inheriting a hard, and politically sensitive, task”.

The return of the Brexit brief to the Foreign Office after it was removed under Theresa May five years ago could be interpreted as “a shot in the arm” for the department under the “powerful” leadership of Truss, said Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome.

But he suggested it is more likely the case of “a resourceful Johnson handing her a poisoned fruit”. If Truss is eyeing up No. 10, she will have to successfully woo those on the right of the parliamentary party who want to see Article 16 of the protocol invoked and those on the left who are “opposed to such a manoeuvre under almost any circumstances”.

“The future of the Protocol, of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and of Northern Ireland itself thus risk getting tangled up with Truss’s ambitions, and those who support and oppose them.”

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