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Be a true Tory Boris or you're out, Lord Frost warns Boris

Be a true Tory Boris or you’re out: Former Cabinet Minister Lord Frost says PM is the ‘right leader but has the wrong people and policies’ after his shock resignation and slams ‘woke warriors stifling British democracy’

  • Lord David Frost has said that Boris Johnson must reset his Government
  • Urged PM to revitalise the country with ‘free markets, free debate and low taxes’
  • He warned change in direction was needed to avoid a General Election defeat
  • Brexit negotiator quit the Government last year over Covid restrictions, tax rises and green policies

Boris Johnson must reset his Government along traditional Conservative lines if he is to avoid defeat at the next General Election, his former Cabinet Minister Lord Frost warns today.

In his first interview since his sensational resignation as Brexit Minister last month, Lord Frost calls on Mr Johnson to revitalise the country with ‘free markets, free debate and low taxes’ and to ‘set the direction of travel’ to appeal to ordinary voters.

He says that the course change is essential for the party ‘if we’re going to get out of this little trough and win the Election in a couple of years’ time’.

Lord Frost quit the Government in December after becoming disillusioned with Mr Johnson over Covid restrictions, tax rises and ‘net zero’ green policies.

A despairing Prime Minister had persuaded his ally to keep the resignation quiet until January, when he hoped it would inflict less damage on an administration that was at the time battling claims Downing Street parties had breached Covid rules.

But the plan was scuppered when the MoS revealed his resignation shortly before Christmas, triggering a late-night exchange of letters and Lord Frost’s immediate exit from the Government.

In his first interview since his sensational resignation as Brexit Minister last month, Lord Frost calls on Mr Johnson to revitalise the country with ‘free markets, free debate and low taxes’ and to ‘set the direction of travel’ to appeal to ordinary voters

A despairing Prime Minister had persuaded ally Lord Frost to keep the resignation quiet until January, when he hoped it would inflict less damage on an administration that was at the time battling claims Downing Street parties had breached Covid rules

Pictured: David Frost, formerly chief trade negotiator, looks on as Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement at 10 Downing Street in 2020

Today’s interview comes after the Prime Minister held a series of meetings to draw up plans to relaunch his Government before May’s local elections and growing talk on his backbenches about a possible leadership challenge.

Changes are likely to start taking effect next month, when the worst of the winter Covid wave is expected to have passed.

Lord Frost makes clear he does not want Mr Johnson to stand down, but to change his policies –and the people around him.

‘What I think we need to do is be clearer about the direction of travel, clearer about how we’re going to get there. And I think the PM should trust his instincts a bit more,’ he says, before criticising the No 10 operation.

‘The PM has a right, when he wants something to happen, for the levers that he pulls to actually produce something. And he has the right to the best possible advice around him.

‘So I think there needs to be machinery changes and there probably need to be some different voices around him to make sure that he gets the best possible advice.’

Setting out a manifesto for post-Brexit Britain, Lord Frost says: ‘I think we need to focus on rebuilding the nation and be proud of our history.

‘We need to get the country going economically again and that means free markets, free debate and low taxes. People need to look at this country and think, yes, something is changing here. You’ve got to set the direction of travel.

Setting out a manifesto for post-Brexit Britain, Lord Frost says: ‘I think we need to focus on rebuilding the nation and be proud of our history.’ Pictured: Lord Frost speaks with the European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in March 2020

‘If we’re going to get out of this little trough and win the Election in a couple of years’ time, then we’ve got to develop that.’

His intervention comes after Tory MPs were shaken by a poll in last week’s Mail on Sunday showing a Labour lead of 16 per cent in the ‘Red Wall’ seats seized by Mr Johnson in the 2019 Election, which are critical to his chances of winning the next one.

Lord Frost says: ‘I saw the polling and it doesn’t look good. I don’t think the Red Wall is so different to the rest of the country. What people want is their own lives to get better. They want control of their lives and to be prosperous.’

Mr Johnson is waiting nervously for a Cabinet Office report into ‘Partygate’, which could come as early as the end of next week.

He is also asking advisers to come up with a way to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, with inflation forecast to hit seven per cent and energy bills set to rise by up to 50 per cent.

‘Boris should trust his instincts more’: In his first interview since his bombshell resignation, former Cabinet Minister Lord Frost sounds warning for embattled PM – but still backs him as the man to lead Britain post-Brexit

Exclusive Interview ByGlen Owen Political Editor For The Mail On Sunday  

When The Mail on Sunday detonated the bombshell news of Lord Frost’s resignation shortly before Christmas, Boris Johnson was considering imposing new Covid restrictions to tackle the surging Omicron variant.

But his dramatic departure – combined with a Commons revolt by nearly 100 Tory MPs – made that politically impossible. Christmas was saved.

Now the former Brexit Minister, who quit after months of quiet despair over Mr Johnson’s increasingly un-Conservative high-tax, big-state political credo, hopes to perform a similar salvage operation on a Government which he says needs a swift and decisive reset.

The sound and fury surrounding Lord Frost’s departure was not part of his original plan. He had actually resigned a week before our story appeared, but agreed to the Prime Minister’s request to keep quiet about it until the storm raging over alleged rule-breaking at Downing Street ‘parties’ had receded.

‘We thought it was the courteous and right thing to do,’ says Lord Frost in his first interview since leaving the Cabinet.

Former Brexit Minister Lord Frost, who quit after months of quiet despair over Mr Johnson’s increasingly un-Conservative high-tax, big-state political credo, hopes to perform a similar salvage operation on a Government which he says needs a swift and decisive reset

‘There was a lot going on in December and people might have misunderstood the reasons.’

Lord Frost is keen to clarify that those reasons are political, not personal; that he considers Mr Johnson to be the right person to lead the country, but that he has the wrong policies and the wrong people around him.

His tone is diplomatic and cautious, but it is clear that he has little time for policies such as the expensive ‘net zero’ emissions target and proposed new laws on animal sentience which disgruntled Tory backbenchers – fairly or otherwise – believe Mr Johnson adopted at least partly as a result of pressure from his wife Carrie.

‘I went into government in 2019 because I thought I wanted to do something for the country, wanted to help us deliver Brexit and start to deliver the benefits of Brexit,’ he says.

‘When I felt that was no longer working the way that I wanted, I thought that the right thing was to go.’

Lord Frost says that Mr Johnson’s reaction to his resignation was to be ‘sad’, although other sources describe it as closer to ‘incandescent’ when the news leaked.

Speaking of how The Mail on Sunday broke the news, the former Minister said: ‘That was a surprise and obviously it made it impossible for me to continue, so we agreed that evening that the best thing was to draw a line at that point. I have probably worked as closely as anybody with him over the past five years.

Lord Frost says that Mr Johnson’s reaction to his resignation was to be ‘sad’, although other sources describe it as closer to ‘incandescent’ when the news leaked

‘I think he was sad to see me go. I’m sad to go in that sense. But it was about policy. It wasn’t about anything else and I think he understood.’

Has Mr Johnson taken on board his criticisms?

‘I am probably not the only person he is hearing this from. What I think we need to do is be clearer about the direction of travel, clearer about how we’re going to get there. And I think the PM should trust his instincts a bit more.’

Lord Frost hints strongly at an unspecified dysfunction in the Downing Street operation.

‘I think he probably needs better support around him in the team to deliver on that. The PM has a right, when he wants something to happen, for the levers that he pulls to actually produce something.

‘And he has the right to the best possible advice around him. So I think there needs to be machinery changes and there probably need to be some different voices around him to make sure that he gets the best possible advice.’

Lord Frost hopes that his resignation has already helped to improve the running of the Government by emboldening other Ministers to speak out.

At Cabinet last week, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg made clear his opposition to the new health and social care levy which will hit already-squeezed pay packets from April.

A number of Lord Frost’s former colleagues are also increasingly speaking out against Covid restrictions.

‘I do think there’s been a bit of a change of mood and people are looking at the evidence a bit more carefully than they have in the past,’ he says.

‘If I contributed to that, then good, because I couldn’t support the Plan B measures and that’s why I left. But I don’t think it was just me. I think there’s more going on here.

At Cabinet last week, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg made clear his opposition to the new health and social care levy which will hit already-squeezed pay packets from April. A number of Lord Frost’s former colleagues are also increasingly speaking out against Covid restrictions 

‘I think you get the best outcomes when there is debate and questioning, and people are allowed to say what they think and you come to a conclusion. So if that’s happening, it’s a good thing.’

Before he left the Cabinet, Lord Frost was also in tacit alliance with hawks such as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Mr Rees-Mogg over the tax hikes, which Lord Frost felt was effectively squandering the freedoms provided by the Brexit which he had worked so hard to negotiate.

He has his own ‘manifesto’ for post-Brexit Britain which he hopes the Prime Minister will adopt.

‘I think we need to focus on rebuilding the nation and be proud of our history. We need to get the country going economically again and that means free markets, free debate and low taxes.

‘People need to look at this country and think, yes, something is changing here. You’ve got to set the direction of travel.

‘If we’re going to get out of this little trough and win the Election in a couple of years’ time, then we’ve got to develop that.

‘It isn’t about just, “Is this tax increase justifiable or not?” It’s about the big-picture things we are trying to do and why.’

Before he left the Cabinet, Lord Frost was also in tacit alliance with hawks such as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Mr Rees-Mogg over the tax hikes, which Lord Frost felt was effectively squandering the freedoms provided by the Brexit

That includes the ‘policing of people’s opinions’ by ‘woke warriors’ and mounting ‘Twitter pile-ons’ targeting those with opposing opinions.

‘It really worries me it’s becoming difficult to advocate certain positions that have been reasonable in public debate in the past,’ Lord Frost says.

‘All of Western history is about free debate, intellectual inquiry, the ability to take the conclusions where you find them.’

Lord Frost says that the Government should make more of the ‘complete legislative freedom’ offered by Brexit, which he would exploit by cutting import duties on foreign imports to help lower the costs for hard-hit households.

‘I would definitely cut tariffs a lot more quickly than we’re doing and introduce a much more assertive competition policy,’ he says.

He was alarmed by the poll in last week’s Mail on Sunday showing a Labour lead of 16 per cent in the Northern ‘Red Wall’ seats seized by Mr Johnson in the 2019 General Election, and critical to his chances of winning the next one.

‘I saw the polling and it doesn’t look good,’ he said.

‘Often, governments get into this in mid-term when people are not particularly thinking about the Election. I don’t think the Red Wall is so different to the rest of the country. What people want is their own lives to get better. They want control of their lives and to be prosperous.’

Has the Government wasted its 2019 majority?

‘The pandemic got in the way slightly of some of this. A majority of 80 does allow you to do a lot of things and we should be pushing forward with a lot of things.

‘One of the precious commodities that you have as a Government is legislative time, given the way things work in Parliament, as well as the majority.

‘You’ve got to use that well and I am not sure that the Bills on animal sentience or whatever are necessarily the best ways of using that time when there are so many priorities to push through.’

Despite the many problems afflicting the Government, Lord Frost still believes that Mr Johnson will be Prime Minister this time next year, if he gets ‘the right sort of support’.

Lord Frost refuses to name his preferred successor to Mr Johnson, although he believes that Brexit is safe in the hands of Ms Truss, who has taken over his portfolio.

‘We all agreed in 2019 and 2020 on the sort of Brexit we wanted regardless of where people had been in the referendum. It was very clear that we wanted a Brexit that was about giving this country freedom.

‘It wasn’t about tying us into other people’s standards and other ways of doing things. I think everybody in the Government believes that and I am confident Liz does as well.’

The Red Wall polling also showed a lack of enthusiasm for green policies such as levies on energy bills and the multi-trillion-pound cost of reducing emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050 at a time when family finances are under such pressure.

‘It’s a huge issue, obviously, now and the high cost of energy plays into so many other aspects of the economy. I think people have been sold a kind of view that the net zero transition can happen without much increase in costs or problems.

‘That’s obviously not the case and people are now seeing that. I personally think that climate change is serious. But I’m not convinced it’s the most serious problem that we face. The country faces lots of other problems and we need to do everything we can to keep the cost of energy low and focus on security of supply.

‘Green politics, net zero, the climate emergency are part of mainstream opinion but it’s really important to keep debating, keep hearing alternative perspectives on this if we’re going to reach the right policies. And that’s what Conservatism means.’

How would he define ‘Johnsonist Conservatism’?

‘Good question. It’s about a ‘can do’ attitude – he is relentlessly optimistic and positive about this country, which is a good thing, and he’s right to be. I think his fundamental views about the world and politics are good ones.

‘I look back to the speech he gave at party conference in 2018 about tax cuts.

‘That was a good speech and I think we could get back to that.’ 

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