The British government's chief negotiator with the EU, David Frost, has resigned "with immediate effect" as Brexit minister.
Lord Frost had previously agreed to stand down from the role in January but in a letter sent to prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, Lord Frost said he had decided to step down "with immediate effect" after news of his departure became public.
The Mail on Sunday first reported that Lord Frost was leaving his role but had been convinced to stay on until January.
In his letter to Mr Johnson, which was released on Saturday night, Lord Frost wrote: “I have led our EU exit process for the 2½ years since you became prime minister. In those years we have restored the UK’s freedom and independence as a country and begun the process of building a new relationship with the EU. That will be a long-term task.
“That is why we agreed earlier this month that I would move on in January and hand over the baton to others to manage our future relationship with the EU.
“It is disappointing that this plan has become public this evening and in the circumstances I think it is right for me to write to step down with immediate effect.”
Lord Frost thanked Mr Johnson and said “Brexit is now secure”, but he said: “The challenge for the government now is to deliver on the opportunities it gives us.
“You know my concerns about the current direction of travel.”
He also said he was sad the unlocking from Covid restrictions had not proved “irreversible” as promised, and added: “I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.” In his reply, Mr Johnson said he was “very sorry” to have received his resignation.
The Mail on Sunday reported that Lord Frost’s resignation had been prompted by the introduction of additional Covid-19 measures, including Covid passes, a broader discontent with tax rises and the cost of “net zero” environmental policies.
Downing Street did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The departure of the British government’s most senior Brexit negotiator is yet another blow to Mr Johnson, who has faced warnings from some of his own MPs that he must improve his leadership or face a challenge.
Mr Johnson said on Friday he took personal responsibility for the loss of a Conservative stronghold in the North Shropshire byelection, where the Liberal Democrats comfortably won on Thursday.
The EU and UK declared a Christmas truce in talks over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements on Friday. After the talks, Lord Frost said that negotiations were not close to solving problems that the Northern Irish protocol he negotiated had created.
“It is disappointing that it has not been possible to reach either a comprehensive or worthwhile interim agreement this year,” Lord Frost said. “A solution needs to be found urgently early next year.”
"For as long as there is no agreed solution, we remain ready to use the article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people," he said.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said Lord Frost’s departure was a bad sign for the prime minister’s commitment to removing the Irish Sea border.
Mr Donaldson said: “This government is distracted by internal strife, and Lord Frost was being frustrated on a number of fronts.
“We wish David well. We enjoyed a strong relationship with him and his team, but this raises more serious questions for the prime minister and his approach to the NI protocol.
"Whether on Northern Ireland's access to medicines, our economic prosperity and trade with the rest of the United Kingdom or on the growing divergence between NI and GB, this protocol has been a deeply damaging deal for the people we represent.
“The prime minister must now urgently decide which is more important – the protocol or the stability of the political institutions.”
Former DUP leader Arlene Foster described Lord Frost’s resignation as “enormous”.
In a tweet, she said: “The resignation of Lord Frost from the Cabinet is a big moment for the Government but enormous for those of us who believed he would deliver for NI.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the news represented “a Government in total chaos right when the country faces an uncertain few weeks”. She tweeted: “ Boris Johnson isn’t up to the job. We deserve better than this buffoonery.”
In a speech last month, Lord Frost expressed his clear discontent with the current course of post-Brexit British policy.
"We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the European Union from Britain with Brexit, only to import that European model after all this time," Lord Frost said in a November 22nd speech at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade.
He disagreed with “those who think we can treat the private sector as just a convenient way of keeping the public sector running”.
“It isn’t just a source of taxes,” he said. “We can’t carry on as we were before, and if after Brexit all we do is import the European social model we will not succeed.” – PA/Reuters