The hard-line Brexiteer’s latest Brexit grievance is aimed at ‘unreconciled Remainers’ who are, allegedly, regrouping.
Despite stepping down as Brexit minister in December 2021 citing ‘concerns about the current direction of travel,’ Lord David Frost is intent on spearheading Brexit discussion.
The former Brexit negotiator caused a stir this week for a provocative, Remain-bashing article in The Telegraph, headlined ‘The ultra-Remainers are mobilising to prepare the ground for re-joining the EU.’
The article, published on April 6, speaks of the ‘near-total victory for the advocates of a real Brexit.’ In a taunt at the European Union, Frost contends that the “behaviour of the EU in 2021, from subverting the Northern Ireland Protocol to rubbishing the AstraZeneca vaccine, left few people interested in refighting old battles.”
Despite, in the former Brexit minister’s words few being interested in “refighting old battles,” the column is centred on how the “unreconciled Remainers are regrouping.” Frost alludes to how the #brexitshambles hashtag has resurfaced on Twitter, pointing to Andrew Adonis, the prominent pro-European whose European Movement says, “Brexit has failed. We were lied to. It’s time to rethink.”
Frost, who was one of the PM’s most hard-line Eurosceptics during his time in government, argues that Keir Starmer is avoiding getting too close to the ‘unreconciled’ Remainers, and makes an unsavoury comparison that, in getting close to Remainers, the Labour leader would be “about as welcome in the Red Wall as Vladimir Putin in downtown Kyiv.” According to Frost, being unable to ignore his supporters, Starmer – a Remainer himself – is forced to say that “a poorly thought-through Brexit is holding Britain back.”
Frost continues that in their aim to keep Britain aligned with the EU, pro-EU leaders often use the Northern Ireland Protocol “as a weapon.” As a means of getting the nation back in the EU, Remainers, Frost writes, have to establish “in the public mind that somehow Brexit is “already failing.”
The article, which concludes that we should revisit the question as to whether Brexit was a good idea in 2067, the same number of years the EU had to show that UK membership was a good idea, and in the meantime get on with the job, sparked derision, with some taking exception to the “ultra-Remainers” tag.
As someone tweeted: “Ultra Remainers’. I think he means: all non-neoliberal fundamentalists that see the huge self-inflicted damage being done to our country, and businesses, by not joining the SM and CU of our biggest, and nearest trading partner! Or: all people with a modicum of common sense!”
Another wrote: “Who do you think you’re kidding, Brexit is failing, it’s why you jumped ship!
“ONS data shows UK exports to EU fell by £20bn last year. Figures show Brexit compounding Covid disruption, with clothing exports plunging 60%, vegetables down 40% and cars 25%.”
One Twitter user posed the question: “If Brexit is a success, please tell us about all the successes “ultra-Remainers” can’t see. Tell us why things are so much better when they feel a lot worse. Tell us how a drop in trade helps keep the UK wealthy, create jobs, increase tax revenue. Thought so, you can’t can you.”
Inventing an ‘Aunt Sally’
The significance of the article has also been questioned. Author and former head of education at Manchester Metropolitan University Andy Pickard told LFF that the article just seems pointless. “Frost is inventing an Aunt Sally – a resurgent Remainer conspiracy – to knock down. Liberals like Adonis have been pro EU since the beginning of time and will remain so until it ends. The rest of us have moved on.”
Frost’s assertions that Remainers “use any argument that comes to hand” to establish that “somehow Brexit is already failing,” come despite figures released in March showing UK goods exports have underperformed the rest of the world, with experts pointing to how Brexit is limiting the country’s trade performance.
In response to a report on the first year of post-Brexit dealmaking published on March 18, 2022, the House of Commons public accounts committee said it was doubtful the government would hit its target of ensuring that 80% of all UK trade was covered by a free trade deal by the end of 2022. The committee is urging the government to be more transparent in consulting better with parliament, industry and specialist groups such as environmentalists and farmers, about the shape of future deals.
This week saw the publishing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report (EFRA), providing what has been described as “a damming indictment of government’s post-Brexit immigration policy.”
The 43-page report underscores the scale of the issues around rising job vacancies in hospitality and other sectors of the food industry. It evidences how between August 2021 and April 2022, vacancies in hospitality have doubled to circa 400,000. The findings conclude: “The food and farming sector has been suffering from acute labour shortages due principally to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic.”
Northern Ireland protocol fall-out
As Brexit negotiator, Frost repeatedly called for Brussels to accept a “substantial and significant” change to the deal which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
Coinciding with Frost asking why the Northern Ireland protocol is “sacrosanct” in his column in The Telegraph, the Irish Prime Minister criticised the former Brexit minister for what he referred to as ‘undermining’ the withdrawal negotiations. Speaking in Belfast this week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that “genuine” attempts by the EU to make progress on outstanding issues in relation to the protocol were “undermined” by Lord Frost.
The integrity of Frost’s refusal to leave the Brexit debate and seeming intent to whip up furore among Remainers has also been called into question. As someone tweeted: “Profound economic damage, removal of rights, loss of influence and trust, shortages, queues and division is hardly seizing on ‘anything’. Think it’s you we won’t take seriously thanks. Whining in the Torygraph about your failure when you couldn’t hack the work of sorting it out.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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