Richard North, 07/03/2021  

John Campbell has been looking at Conservative Home and concludes that the author of this piece is suggesting that last week marked the beginning of a Frost strategy aimed at unwinding the NI Protocol and bringing a land border back into play.

This indeed seems a possibility, and if Frost wants to bring the Protocol down, he's going the right way about it. But one must also recall that, before he took over the TCA negotiations, the man came to the table with no track record of leading negotiations with the EU and a less than stellar reputation for competence.

That leaves a further possibility that Frost is misreading the situation and believes he can get something out of this "hard line" stance that isn't actually achievable, except in his own mind.

Something of this comes over in Frost's extraordinary, authored piece in the Sunday Telegraph, headed: "Brussels needs to shake off its remaining ill-will and treat Brexit Britain as an equal", with the front page headline reading: "Frost tells EU to stop sulking at Brexit".

His basic departure from reality is summed up in his own words, where he asserts that the treaty he negotiated last year "removes us from the EU’s laws, its rules, its courts, and its institutions, while keeping open and free trade between us". Many said it could not be done, Frost chirps, "but we did it".

As trade grinds to a halt, we are, of course, enjoying the fruits of that "fantastic treaty". But Frost will have none of it. He defends himself against criticism for "prioritising sovereignty over the economy", but argues that this is a false choice.

"Sovereignty and democracy", he says, "are vital to economic success. Sovereignty is meaningful because it enables us to set our own rules democratically for our own benefit, and thereby become more prosperous". It is a conviction, he says, "that we, the British people, will make better decisions for ourselves than others will on our behalf".

Frost's main claim here rests on "opting out of EU vaccine procurement", which he says has had extraordinary results – despite the fact that we would have had exactly the same freedom within the EU to act on developing and producing our own vaccine supplies. The EU has no competence in this area and the initiatives were entirely voluntary.

Next on Frost's list is "the introduction of our own tariff regime – one much less protectionist than the EU's". Thus, while prices soar as a result of increasing supply chain problems, he tells us that this "will help hold prices down for the benefit of consumers".

Adding to this list of wonders, he then throws in his "new, targeted, high-skilled visa", aimed to "help us to drive innovation and secure our status as a Science Superpower", even as daffodils rot in the fields for lack of pickers, while NHS and care home posts by the thousands remain unfilled.

Then there is Rishi Sunak's Budget. It has set out the eight new Freeports that, Frost claims, will create jobs and spread prosperity across the country – even though no attempt was made to exploit this obsolete structure while we were in the EU.

But this is not the end, oh no. As Minister for the Benefits of Brexit (Frost's own words), he aims "to help drive through more such new opportunities, and drive through change for the better".

As to the Northern Ireland Protocol, this particular "fantastic" deal, initiated by Johnson himself, the problem is simply one of "applying laws which do not fully enjoy consent".

According to Frost, we agreed it in order to protect the gains of the peace process and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its aspects. That it is unravelling is due to "the action taken by the EU in late January on their vaccines regulation, and the improper invocation of Article 16". This has significantly undermined cross-community confidence in the Protocol.

This, believe it or not, is why the government has had to take "some temporary operational steps to minimise disruption in Northern Ireland". Despite the obvious non sequitur, Frost asserts that they are lawful and are consistent with a progressive and good faith implementation of the Protocol.

They are, Frost adds, "about protecting the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland, making sure they can receive parcels and buy the usual groceries from the supermarket". Without this threat of disruption, he says, "we can continue our discussions with the EU to resolve difficulties arising from the Protocol constructively – and we aim to do so".

With that, Frost now asserts that this country "now has a huge opportunity to shape the international scene for the better". In recent years, he says, "it was too often claimed that Britain was no longer interested in playing a major international role". Frost has never believed this. "The British people", he says, "are internationalist and want to make a difference in the world".

And with Johnson as Prime Minister, he tells us, "our agenda is one of an outward-looking country, confident we can work with others towards common goals".

"That is our hope for our ties with our European friends and allies too", he adds. "I hope they will shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals". That, he concludes, "is what I will be working towards, acting constructively when we can, standing up for our interests when we must – as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny".

From his own keyboard, therefore, we see the nature of the man and his delusion. Unarguably, the British government has breached the protocol, and the Minister for the Benefits of Brexit asserts that this action is "lawful", positing that the ultimate solution is for the EU to "shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship".

If this is a genuine expression of Frost's view – if he genuinely believes what we have written, then we have a serious problem. This is not a rational man, addressing real issues. He has created a bizarre fabrication which has not the slightest acquaintance with the real world.

And that is, by no means, the end of it. According to the Observer, ministers are preparing to relax post-Brexit plans for border checks on food and other imports from the EU, beyond the original phasing.

Such is the lack of UK preparedness, there are fears that the introduction of checks will further damage trade and could lead to severe shortages in UK supermarkets.

Thus, Frost, is considering allowing "lighter touch" controls on imports from 1 April than are currently planned, and scaling back plans for full customs checks, including physical inspections, which are due to begin on 1 July.

Here again, we see a total detachment from reality. Such a stratagem, beyond the temporary delays necessary to implement full controls, would almost certainly contravene WTO non-discrimination rules, with importers from non-EU countries screaming for equal treatment.

As the same time, with British exporters to EU Member States bearing the full brunt, of border checks, while EU export to the UK getting a free pass, sectors such as pig farming will continue to be heavily disadvantaged.

But the biggest blow of all would come with the EU reaction. With few controls on exports into the UK, the EU would be on its guard against UK exports using imported components or ingredients. Relaxed controls ay UK borders could be matched by tighter controls on UK goods entering the EU.

Every which way, it seems, Frost is all at sea with Brexit. Maybe he does have some dark plan, ready to roll out, but the indications from his own writings and actions are that we have a man who is basically out of his depth. He is planning actions aimed at solving problems which, progressively, are set to make them worse.

With that, one must take the view that Frost is more likely driven by stupidity more than malice, even if the outcomes are very similar.

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