It’s hard to listen to David Frost, or Lord Frost as we must now call him, without jumping up and down as he swats away every reality-based argument that might prove wrong his beloved creed of Brexit.
So black is white, day is night and, give him a nice big slice of Victoria sponge and he will complain that when he’s eaten it, it’s no longer there.
This was all in evidence in an interview he gave to the News Agents podcast to mark the third anniversary of Brexit this week. And this despite the challenges from presenter Emily Maitlis. At one point, the former Brexit Secretary and chief negotiator insisted that whatever else happened, it was thanks to Brexit that the UK was finally “a full democracy” once again.
People might “feel disappointed” by the way Brexit has panned out, as per the Unherd poll that finds all but three of the UK’s constituencies thought it a mistake, he concedes. But this is because the government has “not done enough to push the benefits” of leaving the European Union. Like communism, the problem is that it hasn’t been done properly yet. Even so, he believes there have still been several benefits, which he has helpfully listed these in a lengthy and unconvincing Twitter thread, which included the ability to create Freeports (also possible in the EU) and creating an agricultural scheme to suit farmers more, even though farmers are up in arms over the way Brexit has harmed them.
And while he may not be able completely to deny that life is harder since Brexit, with the cost of living crisis, the struggling NHS, the hit to exports and destruction of industries from fishing to music touching millions, well, don’t we know that “a lot has gone on”? Specifically, the usual suspects of pandemic and Ukraine. He is unmoved by reports and data showing the parlous state of the economy and linking this to Brexit. The International Monetary Fund prediction that the UK will grow more slowly than every other advanced economy, including sanction-hit Russia, is just a forecast, he says, and they can be wrong. And we mustn’t forget that he “always said” there would be “a small trade effect” of Brexit, whereas other Brexiteers weren’t honest enough about this.
Frost, on the other hand, was obviously totally honest about the Northern Ireland protocol, which he simultaneously defends both signing and repudiating, while continuing his refusal to acknowledge that Brexit involves a problematic hard border either dividing Northern Ireland from the UK or dividing it from the rest of Ireland.
Such is the state of the Conservative Party that this same Lord Frost is being seen as one of its intellectual heavyweights. And he has not denied he could give up his peerage and run for election, with an eye for the top job.
If he does, he’s going to have competition, for Big Dog Johnson is also on manoeuvres, subjecting himself to tough political interviews with journalistic titans like Nadine Dorries (“What’s it like being at home with kids?”), parading around the United States like an elder statesman bestowing wisdom and bothering Vlodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine for photo ops. His acolytes write sycophantic columns in the Daily Telegraph calling for him to be brought back and take over the reins at NATO.
Saying that you’d have to be mad to think that he covered up illegal Covid-era parties in Downing Street — the literal reason most of his own MPs forced him out — Johnson clearly feels he can upturn reality and return to power, Whether this shows a lack of self-awareness or the grim reality of today’s politics remains to be seen.
Like Johnson’s buses, it seems grotesque spring career relaunches now come in threes. Britain’s 44-day Downing Street queen, Liz Truss, is also creeping out of the shadows, having resolved along with some 50 allies that her legacy isn’t being protected properly. Not the one about her crashing the markets and condemning families to unaffordable mortgages with an ill-advised budget, but the “intellectual” underpinning of wanting growth really, really badly.
In this — yet another parallel reality from the Conservatives’ fruitcake wings — Truss is a misunderstood genius whose only fault was her failure to explain her cunning plans to less able underlings and public. She was “playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order” for others to keep up. Maybe not quite deluded enough to think she’d be allowed back into residence at No 10, but Truss might feel a role beckons for someone of her talents as a sort of respected elder of the party?
Brexit’s birthday has become a sort of alternative April Fool’s day, where the ridiculous becomes probable. Why else are the old Brexit hits (“it’s the fault of the civil servants”, “without it there would not be Freeports” “we were a vassal state”) coming out just when the majority of the country realise its folly?
This all shows that, for all the talk of Rishi Sunak finally laying to rest the Conservatives’ madness reflex and heading up a sensible government, little has really changed in a party that has run out of ideas.
If we allow him to be more capable – not a given – then Sunak is completely trapped by the ERG and the self-promoters and bullies who were allowed to take over a party previously considered a governing machine. Sunak is but an empty shadow failing to hide the malign dysfunction behind him, a vacuum into which the architects of this chaos pour back in the mindbening belief that they are the only heroes left to save their party from electoral ruin.