LONDON — Britain has a new Brexit point man — and it’s a familiar face.
David Frost, the official who led the negotiation of the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, will join Boris Johnson’s Cabinet as a government minister and will be London’s representative on the key U.K.-EU partnership council, Downing Street announced.
Frost, who was appointed to the unelected House of Lords last year and can therefore serve as a minister, will take on a wide-ranging brief encompassing government policy on both the domestic and international aftermath of Brexit, in a move seen as tightening No.10’s grip on EU policy.
His appointment as a “minister of state in the Cabinet Office” means Frost can take the U.K. chair of the partnership council mandated by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) struck with the EU in December. He will also replace Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove as chair of the joint committee that oversees the implementation of 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement.
Frost said he was “hugely honoured to have been appointed Minister to take forward our relationship with the EU after Brexit.”
“In doing so I stand on the shoulders of giants & particularly those of [Michael Gove] who did an extraordinary job for this country in talks with EU over the past year.”
It marks the latest in a series of appointments for Frost, who became Johnson’s top EU adviser when he entered Downing Street.
Last month it was announced that Frost would lead on the U.K.’s institutional and strategic relationship with the EU. In his new ministerial role he will also work on domestic reform and regulation to “maximize the opportunities of Brexit,” Downing Street said. He will play an additional role coordinating post-Brexit trade policy with non-EU countries.
The appointment was swiftly welcomed by Eurosceptics on the Conservative benches, with David Jones, deputy chair of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, describing it as an “excellent” move.
“David Frost is an outstanding negotiator and he will certainly look after the U.K.’s interests in both the joint committee and the partnership council,” he said. Jones said the appointment would be “very positive” for future U.K.-EU relations because Frost “already knows the landscape well from his long negotiations with Michel Barnier” and “speaks their language.”
Trade and Brexit experts also predicted the move would simplify the set-up for Britain’s post-Brexit relations with Brussels and resolve some questions left unanswered since the signing of last year’s trade deal.
“Having a direct line from ongoing EU negotiations into the Cabinet is wise, reflecting their continued centrality to the U.K. national interest,” said Dmitry Grozoubinski, executive-director of the Geneva Trade Platform.
“Hopefully the joint triumph of the TCA signing ceremony washes away any residual bitter taste left from the sometimes combative public statements made by Mr Frost in the heat of negotiations,” he added.
Georgina Wright, head of Institut Montaigne’s Europe Program, predicted the appointment would “come as a relief to Brussels,” saying that while Frost had “a reputation for being firm” he also has “a good understanding of the EU” from his time as Brexit negotiator.
“The EU is complicated and understanding how to negotiate with it will be key to ensuring this new relationship works,” she said.
Maddy Thimont Jack, associate director for Brexit at the Institute for Government think tank, said the shake-up would “neaten” Whitehall’s approach to Britain’s future relationship with Brussels, ending a “strange frost/Gove/Prime Minister triangle” that had shaped recent decision-making and allowing clearer accountability in parliament.
She said the decision to put ongoing Brexit policy at the center of government, rather than with the separate Department for International Trade, gave “a clear demonstration that the U.K. government recognizes that the U.K. relationship with the EU is different, and it is deeper, and it is more complicated.”
Šefčovič relationship the ‘linchpin’
The change of personnel comes amid ongoing talks between the U.K. and the EU aimed at thrashing out problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the Brexit deal aimed at preserving the Good Friday peace agreement.
Gove has so far led talks with EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, and officials on both sides have spoken of a rapport between the two men. Gove is said to have chaired more than 200 EU Exit Operations Cabinet committee meetings, and the role marks a shift in focus for the Cabinet minister.
But one senior government figure insisted putting Frost into the Cabinet was no slight on other senior colleagues, and instead about having a minister focused solely on the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
Indeed, Gove — who swiftly welcomed the move as a “great appointment” — already has a number of roles as boss of the Cabinet Office, which runs the wider U.K. civil service and coordinates policy across government.
“If your intent is the success of the team, why would you worry about another oarsman rowing with us?” the person said.
Thimont Jack said it would now be vital for Frost to show he can “very quickly… build on and develop a good relationship” with Šefčovič.
“That will have to be the linchpin of all of this,” she add. “I think that probably will be his big challenge, but in terms of knowing the detail and understanding what the U.K. government’s intention is — he’s very much the right person to do that.”
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