19 December 2021

Call for ‘wartime leader’ in No 10 after Brexit minister’s resignation

19 December 2021

Boris Johnson’s “boosterism” will not see him through the crisis currently engulfing No 10, a senior Tory has said, as the resignation of a key ally prompted more questions about the Prime Minister’s future.

Brexit minister Lord Frost resigned with “immediate effect” on Saturday night, having previously agreed with the Prime Minister he would leave his job in January.

Citing “the current direction of travel” of the Government, as well as fears over “coercive” Covid measures and the wish for the UK to become a “lightly regulated, low-tax” economy, Lord Frost’s departure was described as a “watershed moment” in what had been an extremely damaging week for the PM.

Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), who chairs the Commons Defence Select Committee, said many Conservative colleagues shared the desire for there to be “a consistency of where we want to go”.

He told Times Radio: “I think this is what perhaps unites more and more of the wider party, and we’ve seen this since the Owen Paterson debacle, is that it needs to be clarity of our vision, there needs to be a consistency of where we want to go, people need to be included, the decision-making in No 10 needs to be improved.

“We need an, almost like, a wartime leader, we need a strong No 10, and the machinery of No 10 around Boris Johnson, that’s what needs to be improved.

“The boosterism, the energy, is not enough in these current circumstances alone.”

Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “Boris has led this country exceptionally well … But what comes next? And that’s what I think Lord Frost is talking about.

“I think part of that rebellion of 100 Conservative MPs was partly due to the fact that we want to see the Prime Minister move to a more conservative agenda in future.”

Lord Frost said he was concerned by the Government’s ‘direction of travel’ (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Bone also said he agreed with Lord Frost’s concerns over the prospect of “coercive measures” to control coronavirus.

The MP said: “I’ve cancelled all in-person meetings and the get-together with staff, I cancelled. I won’t be going to crowded places, but leave that up to the individual to make that decision, don’t have the state telling me what I have to do every day, and so in that regard, yes, I’m with Lord Frost on that.”

Meanwhile, chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Simon Hoare told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that the issues cited by Lord Frost were the same that had been raised by “at least one potential leadership candidate”.

And he said: “I do just wonder whether he’s acting as a bit of an outrider for them, I’m just not sure.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended the PM as he told Trevor Phillips: “I think Boris Johnson is the best person to take us through the challenges the country faces.”

He said he also understood the reasons Lord Frost had resigned and called him a “principled” man.

Lord Frost resigning piles more pressure on the PM, who has already suffered potentially his worst week politically since becoming Prime Minister with the rebellion, the loss of a former Tory safe seat in the North Shropshire by-election and continued allegations over parties in Whitehall during lockdown restrictions.

Mr Ellwood suggested it was now an opportunity to “press the reset button with the EU”.

Peter Bone said he agrees with Lord Frost on Covid measures (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)

Former minister Mr Ellwood said: “We’re still not out of the woods with the Northern Ireland Protocol and we have some rather larger decisions and challenges, which actually unite both the EU, Europe and Britain.”

He said: “As much as I think this is going to be seen as a hit for the Government, he was a critical character that’s been with Boris Johnson from the very start when it comes to Brexit, this is a chance for us actually to sort of move forward on our relationship with the EU.”

Stormont’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that whoever replaces Lord Frost as Brexit minister will “need to find solutions” to make the protocol work.

Ms O’Neill told the BBC Sunday Politics programme: “This is the same David Frost who negotiated Brexit and he has worked to undermine it every day since.

“I am less concerned about what is going on in the Tory party and the dismay and the disruption.

“What I am more concerned about is that the protocol is made to work, that pragmatic solutions are found, that certainty and stability is achieved for all of our business community here who have been left high and dry in terms of uncertainty because of the Brexit mess.

“David Frost will be replaced by another minister and, whoever that minister is, they need to find solutions, work with the EU, make the protocol work and provide that certainty and stability that is desperately required.”

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