Negotiations with EU will affect our economy for generations
So, who had Brexit minister David Frost resigning on their 2021 bingo card? What a year it has been, highs, lows and enough political skulduggery to make the West Wing look tame, reality has been much more dramatic than art.
It is understandable that with increased cost of living, concerns for elderly and vulnerable relatives and the precarious financial position people find themselves in, many have switched off from politics.
The antics of the elected — and in Lord Frost’s case non-elected — politicians can seem far removed from the reality of our daily lives.
But the decisions made by those in power, whether locally at council or assembly level or in Westminster or Brussels has real world consequences for us all.
If the pandemic highlighted one thing perfectly it was that neglecting a health service is a false economy, when trouble comes knocking those public services become a matter of life and death.
Likewise, what is currently being negotiated between Britain and the EU will have an impact on all our lives in the years to come.
More locally and Lord Frost was the DUP’s man on the inside. He met regularly with unionists and ensured they were regularly briefed.
Most controversial was his meeting with the Loyalist Communities Council, a group that represents the views of the three main loyalist paramilitary groups.
These meetings along with high-level briefings were designed to quell unionist fears and to assure them that concerns around the NI Protocol would be resolved.
Jeffrey Donaldson clearly trusted Frost’s negotiating skills, delaying and earlier threat to pull his ministers out of the executive if the protocol was not scrapped to allow Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator time to deliver on his promises.
But any commitment to scrap the protocol in its entirety were unrealistic, and in recent weeks the UK Government appeared to soften its approach to the post-Brexit arrangements.
Friday’s announcement on proposed laws to assist the free flow of medicines into Northern Ireland created a momentum with the two sides brokering a festive truce, pausing the talks until the new year on a relatively positive note.
But if the Johnston administration is good at one thing it’s leaking and Lord Frost’s decision to quit his post in January was hastened after the Mail on Sunday got wind of his planned departure.
Tellingly his resignation letter spoke of frustration at the government’s direction of travel on Covid and taxation but made no mention of Northern Ireland or the protocol.
Whatever his reasons for leaving, his departure creates a problem for the Prime Minister, already under pressure after a spanking at the North Shropshire by-election, that overturned a massive Tory majority with a Liberal Democrat MP returned.
That along with allegations of sleaze, mishandling of Covid and a loss of confidence by many of his own MPs creates a very real problem for Boris Johnston’s leadership. He is under huge pressure from the right of his party over Covid restrictions.
This is all London bubble stuff that wouldn’t usually have any consequences on this side of the Irish Sea, but it will mean replacing Lord Frost is likely to influenced by the need for self-preservation.
And that does have real world consequences for us in this part of the world, because what’s negotiates will impact on our economy for generations to come.
Johnston will be under pressure from the back bench Brexiteers to replace Lord Frost with someone who will want to unravel the deal to date.
It was reported that figures such as Iain Duncan Smith or even David Davis, who resigned as Theresa May’s Brexit secretary in 2018, could be in the running.
Both men are hardliners, both have called for the ditching of the protocol.
Frost’s most contentious demand was that the European court of justice (ECJ) should not be the arbiter of disputes over the implementation of the law in Northern Ireland.
Locally nationalist politicians said this never arose as an issue with the business community.
However, in recent days, there was a shift to accepting that the ECJ will play a role, albeit merely as a reference point on EU law for a jointly agreed independent arbitration panel.
It seems the British were willing to strike a deal on protocol reform rather than scrapping it completely, which is what hard-line unionists and loyalists have been calling for.
Their issue with the protocol was never one of frictionless trade but an identity one, with the different trading arrangements being interpreted as an attack on their sovereignty.
These unresolved and sensitive issues will all have an impact on the future stability of our island, both economically and politically.
In terms of security, it could also lead to more sporadic unrest on the streets.
And so why it may seem far removed from day-to-day life we should all pay an interest in who is appointed Brexit Minister and what their agenda is.
Can Boris Johnston be trusted to put his own leadership and future ahead of what is best for the people living on these islands, north/south east and west?
Given his previous record I’ve a suspicion we already know the answer to that question.
In the words of the great Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”