Architect of Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal deal to declare ‘Brexit is working’

·3-min read
Lord Frost is to describe Brexit as ‘a necessary gateway to a project of national renewal’  (PA)
Lord Frost is to describe Brexit as ‘a necessary gateway to a project of national renewal’ (PA)

The architect of Boris Johnson’s EU trade deal is to declare in a keynote speech that “Brexit is working”.

But in a stark contradiction to Mr Johnson’s claim to have “got Brexit done”, David Frost will say that “Brexit is not complete yet”, in part because of the continuing row with Brussels over the Irish border.

Despite estimates from the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility that the long-term impact of EU withdrawal could lower UK GDP by 4 per cent, Lord Frost will insist that suggestions that Brexit has harmed the economy have come only from people with “axes to grind”.

And – despite UK threats to break international law by breaching the Northern Ireland protocol he helped to broker – the former Brexit negotiator will accuse Brussels of behaving in a “confrontational” way, and urge the EU to cooperate with Britain as “a trusted partner”.

Lord Frost’s comments will come in a speech to the UK in a Changing Europe think tank to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2016 EU referendum on Thursday.

Polls in recent years have consistently shown that a majority of Britons believe it was a mistake to vote to leave the EU – most recently by a margin of 49 per cent to 37 per cent.

Concerns have been stoked by the intractable dispute over the Irish border, increased red tape for UK exporters, snarl-ups at Channel ports, the return of mobile phone roaming charges, and a loss of benefits for British travellers, such as visa-free passport queues.

But Lord Frost will insist: “Brexit is working. We have no cause for regrets about the decision the country has taken.

“The solutions to the remaining problems are not to be found in going backwards, but in completing the process and following through on its logic.”

His comments come a day after a Resolution Foundation report found that Mr Johnson’s trade deal has made the UK less competitive, with productivity forecast to fall by 1.3 per cent by the end of the decade as a result, and real pay set to be £470 lower per worker than it would have been had Britain stayed in the EU.

But Lord Frost will say: “The view that Brexit is hitting us from an economic and trade perspective is generated by those with an axe to grind, and cannot be supported by any objective analysis of the figures.

“The UK has grown at much the same pace as other G7 countries since the referendum, and, as the Office for National Statistics points out, our goods exports to the EU are at the highest level ever.”

In a swipe at the slow progress made by No 10 in delivering the benefits of Brexit, Lord Frost will say that EU withdrawal was not an end in itself but a “necessary gateway to a project of national renewal”, adding: “The government needs to get on with defining and implementing that project.”

And he will say that if the EU wants a stronger relationship with the UK, it must adjust its behaviour over Northern Ireland.

“Does the EU want Brexit to work?” he will ask. “Can it rise above the current frictions and work with the UK as a trusted partner, or will it continue to hassle and lecture us?”

He will add that a “new entente cordiale” could be built between the UK and its European neighbours, but it will depend on the EU being “more open to change the protocol” and agreeing to “mutual de-escalation on various border and visa issues”.

He will continue: “That still seems a possible way forward to me – but it takes two. Our destiny is in our hands. We can, and I hope will, succeed, whatever the EU does – it will just be more difficult for all concerned if the EU insists on being difficult and confrontational rather than collaborative.

“It would be much better to put the history behind us – on both sides – and concentrate on making this new relationship work. There is absolutely no reason why that can’t happen. It just takes vision – it just takes will.”