All about David Frost - the PM's new Chief Brexit Negotiator

Posted On: 
2nd August 2019

Dods Monitoring’s Principal Consultant Laura Hutchinson looks into David Frost, the new UK Brexit negotiator.

If one were to glimpse back over Frost’s career, they would see someone steeped in European politics and institutions, writes Laura Hutchinson.
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A new Government brings with it a change in the civil service guard. First out: Olly Robbins, the May’s Chief Advisor on Brexit. A crucial figure in the formation of May’s Withdrawal Agreement who gained a Rasputin-esque reputation amongst hard line Brexiteers.

His replacement has, for now, a much lower profile and, having spent decades as an impartial civil servant, his views on Brexit are less speculated on. So, who is David Frost and how might he approach the next few months?

If one were to glimpse back over Frost’s career, they would see someone steeped in European politics and institutions. Before advising Boris Johnson in the Foreign Office, Frost worked in Europe, headed up Europe units within a number of Government Departments, and even served as British Ambassador in Denmark. His extensive background in diplomacy may help counter the combative language coming from the Government benches, but the European Union would be wrong to assume that he is a supporter.

During a brief hiatus from the Civil Service, Frost joined Open Europe’s Advisory Council and it is here that we get a idea of how he might approach the next few months. In 2015, ahead of David Cameron’s attempt to negotiate different terms from the European Union, Frost wrote a paper on how the UK should approach negotiations with the EU. He argues that there are two central elements in any successful EU negotiation: having allies; and making what you want seem normal.

His skills in diplomacy will certainly help foster some theoretical allies, but the EU have cannily committed to negotiating as a bloc, in order to avoid a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy where the UK persuades individual countries to splinter off from the official position. Unless Frost can influence the Irish Government to U-turn on the backstop, then the EU will stand united against any proposal to remove it from the agreement.

This U-turn would presumably predicate on the successfulness of Frost ‘normalisation’ of the new Government’s Brexit strategy.

Frost argues you can get this done by setting out radical policies which “widen the Overton window.” Or in other words, widen the outcomes that are thought to be politically conceivable to the EU.

It is doubtful Frost will have much success in widening the Overton window enough to make the removal of the Irish backstop acceptable.

Firstly, the issue has become too entrenched. It would be a U-turn of unparalleled proportions if the backstop were to be dropped from the Withdrawal Agreement without an agreed alternative arrangement and would set a dangerous precedent for the EU as a whole.

Secondly, this issue fundamentally comes down to principles. Ireland, and the EU as a whole, have two red lines in essence: the political…

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