A career diplomat who has given up on diplomacy where Europe is concerned, David Frost now holds Britain's future in his hands. What motivates him?by Rachel Sylvester / September 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
On the face of it, Dominic Cummings and David Frost could not be more different. Boris Johnson’s best-known adviser is a political showman who sets out to court publicity and stir up controversy. At times, Cummings seems to be turning his Downing Street career into a piece of performance art, with deliberately dishevelled costumes curated down to the last beanie hat, and lines delivered with panache to the reporters who wait outside his home. When he wore a back-to-work suit this week it made the headlines because it was so out-of-character.
The prime minister’s other most-trusted aide prefers to shun the limelight. Frost may be the chief Brexit negotiator, but he operates behind the scenes—discreet, conventional and slightly introverted. In meetings, he fades into the background, suitably camouflaged in traditional office wear and always wearing a tie. He does not talk of “creative destruction” or quote the old Facebook motto “move fast and break things” with the swagger of a schoolboy revolutionary. He would never compare cabinet ministers unfavourably to the television superheroes PJ Masks or parade his importance by ostentatiously refusing to tuck in his shirt. He could not be categorised in any sense as a “weirdo or a misfit with odd skills.”
Frost, a former diplomat, is less famous and flamboyant than his colleague, but he is arguably more powerful than Cummings will ever be. As the leader of No 10’s Taskforce Europe, he is running the trade talks that will determine Britain’s fate beyond the pandemic, and shape the country’s economic fortunes and place in the world for a generation. And he is doing so on a desperately tight timetable, set by the hard legal deadline for the end of the transition period on 31st December. Should there be no agreement, and we crash out of the EU without a negotiated trade deal, then all sorts of tariffs and other disruptions could be introduced overnight, and the horrors that lurked when a no-deal Brexit loomed last year would be upon us—stalled car production lines, slaughtered sheep and lengthy queues at the ports. But should things go smoothly, with Britain retaining its advantages in trading with Europe while also acquiring new freedoms to pursue commerce around the world, the UK will have the best chance it could hope for to make Brexit…