Brexit Minister resigns and crisis worsens in UK Prime Minister
The political crisis that engulfed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson worsened with the resignation of a close ally, Brexit Minister David Frost, who cited the restrictions linked to the pandemic and the “direction of travel” of the government.
Frost handled Britain’s post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Frost expressed his displeasure with the government’s policies in a speech last month, saying he feared Britain would use its exit from the EU to chart a new course towards limited government, lower taxes and less regulation.
In his resignation letter on Saturday, Frost returned to the same theme, saying, “You know my concerns about the current direction of travel. I hope we get where we need to go as quickly as possible: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy at the forefront of modern science and economic change.
He added his frustrations with the renewal of pandemic brakes, saying: “We also have to learn to live with Covid and I know that is also your instinct. You took the courageous decision in July, against strong opposition, to reopen the country. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be irreversible, as I hoped, and I think you did too. Hopefully we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of enforcement action we have seen elsewhere. “
Frost’s departure ends seven days of huge setbacks for Johnson. Last week Johnson faced one of the largest parliamentary rebellions in modern British history. More than 100 of its conservative lawmakers have voted against reimposing strict pandemic restrictions and introducing new ones, including vaccine passports to enter nightclubs and venues hosting large events.
The besieged Prime Minister was further rocked by a humiliating defeat in the by-elections in a seat in the English Midlands which the Tories have held continuously since 1832.
The resignation of Frost, a former diplomat who was knighted last year by Johnson so he could join the Cabinet, will likely embolden the prominent libertarian wing of the party already furious at the British leader’s handling of the pandemic.
Tory rebels are determined to dissuade Johnson from further tightening restrictions related to the pandemic. On Sunday, it emerged Johnson was under increasing pressure from government science and medical advisers to follow the Netherlands and order a nationwide lockdown ahead of the Christmas break.
Councilors called for an “immediate” reduction in the indoor mix of households to combat the accelerating pace of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Officials say Johnson has no choice but to consider a series of additional measures, ranging from new social distancing rules to a full lockdown, which, if ordered, would be the third since the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Frost had informed Johnson that he was leaving, but was persuaded to delay his announcement until January. But Frost’s plan leaked, forcing him to resign with immediate effect.
Frost’s departure adds to the confusion in the Conservative ranks. Rebel Conservative lawmakers on Sunday expressed concerns over Frost’s resignation. Theresa Villiers, a former secretary from Northern Ireland, said it was “very worrying”. Lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said it was “another hammer blow for the Prime Minister”.
Tory insiders say an offer to oust Johnson as party leader, and therefore prime minister, will be unlikely in the coming weeks, but some believe he has been “fatally injured” and the Frost’s resignation adds to this perception. It will also complicate policy in Cabinet on what the government should do in the face of the rapid rise in coronavirus infections in the short term.
The Cabinet is divided with some key ministers who oppose the reimposition of new pandemic rules. Opponents include two key ministers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Minister Liz Truss. Both are reported to have leadership ambitions.
Even Johnson’s supporters admit he is now grappling with his tumultuous prime minister’s biggest crisis. But they say Johnson has time to correct his position as party factions clamoring for his lead are divided over who they should support to replace him. Johnson loyalists also say that if the omicron turns out to be milder than previous variants, it could still weather the storm of recent weeks.
But many of Johnson’s problems are due to unforced errors that anger voters, his critics say. And they see no end in sight as long as he remains in office to the toxic mix of scandals, government chaos and sudden policy reversals that rock the electorate.
The vengeful allies of his predecessor in Downing Street, Theresa May, whom he helped oust, are circling and keen to overthrow him. They – along with the party’s libertarian wing – profited from last week’s by-election defeat in North Shropshire, which saw a 34% decline in Tories, one of the largest since World War II .
Many North Shropshire voters said in the days leading up to the poll that they were enraged by the recent revelations about the anti-lockdown parties in Downing Street last December, at a time when the rest of the country was banned from participate in social gatherings and thousands of Britons have been barred from visiting elderly relatives or family members who have died in hospital wards from the COVID-19 disease.
Johnson’s showmanship, once widely regarded as an attribute, has also failed as the mood of the audience deteriorates. Last month, a rambling speech at a conference of the country’s top business leaders drew much criticism. Johnson lost his grades, had to apologize for getting lost, and widely praised an amusement park, known as Peppa Pig World. He also compared himself to Moses and imitated the sound of a sports car speeding up.