During Saturday’s much-anticipated Strictly Come Dancing final, my phone started buzzing with the news that my former colleague David Frost was waltzing out of government.
Rose and Giovanni’s win was not really a shock, but Frosty’s walkout absolutely was.
Equally stunning was the revelation Frost would now award Boris Johnson’s government a score so low it would make even Craig Revel Horwood blush.
The previously rock-solid supporter of Boris Johnson, at his side for years, was finally exiting stage right, and he wasn’t happy with Boris’s moves.
Omicron restrictions, vaccine passports, tax hikes, economic policy and the cost of getting to Net Zero — all key tenets of Johnson’s government — were cited as reasons for Frost’s resignation.
Significantly, no negative points on Brexit were declared in his resignation letter.
Frost’s walkout came at the end of Boris Johnson’s worst week as Prime Minister.
With half his backbenchers — 100 Conservative MPs — rebelling on vaccine passports for England; a crushing, humiliating defeat by the Liberal Democrats in North Shropshire in a by-election that could have avoided and his top civil servant Simon Case being forced to step down from an enquiry into Downing Street parties where the law may have been broken, Boris Johnson may have been hoping for some weekend respite.
But it was not so — the chilly wind on his premiership continued with the news that a key ally, Frost, was melting away. The Prime Minister may well have asked himself: “Can it really be just two years since I won an 80-strong majority?”
It’s also a huge personal blow to the Prime Minister, as Frost is one of his longest-serving aides and friends.
After a career as a diplomat, including as our Ambassador to Denmark, David Frost became special adviser to then-Foreign Secretary Johnson, returning to government to negotiate Brexit first as a Number 10 special adviser to Prime Minister Johnson and then as a House of Lords Minister in the Cabinet Office, the engine room of government.
So close was the two men’s relationship that a friend in Number 10 messaged me on Saturday evening to compare it to that of my own with the late James Brokenshire.
James was not only a great friend, but someone I worked with for three years in government as his closest aide.
“This is not just disgruntled grumbling,” my Number 10 friend wrote.
“This is like a parallel you resigning from the cabinet of a hypothetical Prime Minister Brokenshire.”
The role of chief Brexit negotiator, last night awarded to Liz Truss, is a role, whether you love or loathe Brexit, that everyone in Northern Ireland knows is crucial to settling the issue. All can agree we must have clarity for business, for politicians, indeed for all of us here.
Regrettably, many people in the rest of the UK swallow the mantra that Brexit got ‘done’ when we left the European Union last year.
Dominic Cummings — Johnson’s previous chief aide — even insisted Brexit be referred to as ‘a historical event’, something which prompts hollow laughs from friends still working on Brexit policy in the corridors of power.
It is clear there is much more to achieve in clarifying our relationship with the EU. And that’s vital not just in Westminster, but at Stormont, in Dublin and in Brussels.
As someone who backed Remain in the 2016 campaign, Liz Truss may be suspected by some Conservative backbenchers, but her taking on the role will be a more popular decision than expected in Dublin and Brussels. Johnson is boxed in by his own party at the moment, and with further politically unpopular lockdown measures being considered in days to come, the Prime Minister needs to bolster his authority on a number of fronts.
He knows he cannot be Prime Minister if he is not leader of the Conservative Party. Once again, survival in that particular role is Boris Johnson’s number one concern, rather than any other.
He has placed his trust in Truss to solve this particular problem, and it is imperative she succeeds and completes the job David Frost left unfinished. It’s time to actually, properly, get Brexit done, so we can move on, especially here in Northern Ireland.
Peter Cardwell is a former special adviser to two Secretaries of State and is now political editor of Talk Radio. He is the author of The Secret Life of Special Advisers