Lord Frost, Boris Johnson’s Brexit minister and one of his closest allies, has resigned in protest at the ‘direction’ of the government. He has been making his discomfiture clear for a while, most recently in this speech to the Centre for Policy Studies where he said he believed in low tax (Johnson is raising tax) and no vaccine passports (Johnson forced them through with Labour votes last week). Invoking Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech he said – in a clear warning to the Prime Minister – ‘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’. Here is an extract from the speech:
We have taken a different road in the UK. Our elections now matter and everything can change as a result of them. That means politicians have to compete in the marketplace of ideas. We have to persuade people that free markets and free institutions are the best way forward. If we can’t – we lose. And that is all the more important because we are on our own now. Our destiny is in our own hands and we have to step up and compete at a global level. It is no longer good enough to be the most attractive economy in the EU.
We face global competition and we have to benchmark ourselves against the whole of the world. That is a big challenge – for government as well as the private sector. That is why I have the job I have – trying to ensure there is consistency between what’s required by our agreement with the EU, by our FTAs with other countries, and by the programme of domestic reforms that our new freedoms make possible.
What Brexit means for the future is dependent on whether we can seize these opportunities. Whether we can liberalise, free up, create competition on our own market, create the conditions for innovation and productivity growth. So I can’t share the views of 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. Nor is it a bunch of people who will inevitably do bad things unless the Government keeps a very close eye on them.
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. 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.
So we need to reform fast, and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU. If we stick to EU models, but behind our own tariff wall and with a smaller market, we obviously won’t succeed.
It is all too easy to get captured by the interest groups and the lobbies. We don’t have time for that. The world is not standing still. No-one owes us a living. Earning one is now fully in our own hands. The formula for success as a country is well known. Low taxes – I agree with the Chancellor, as he said in his Budget speech, our goal must be to reduce taxes.
Light-touch and proportionate regulation, whatever our policy objectives. Free trade – of course – simultaneously increasing consumer choice while reducing consumer costs. Ensuring competition stops complacency – keeping our economy fit and responsive to innovation and progress abroad.
And personal freedom and responsibility. Unavoidably, we have had a lot of state direction and control during the pandemic. That cannot and must not last for ever, and I am glad that it is not. I am very happy that free Britain, or at least merry England, is probably now the free-est country in the world as regards covid restrictions. No mask rules, no vaccine passports – and long may it remain so.
Narrator: it did not remain so and Lord Frost resigned.
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This is an edited extract of Lord Frost’s speech to the Centre for Policy Studies.