Speaking at the Guildhall in London on Monday, the Brexit minister told City leaders that his job was not just about settling disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“That is why I have the job I have – it’s about trying to ensure there’s consistency between what’s required by the agreements with the EU, by the FTAs [Free Trade Agreements] with other countries and find the programme of domestic reforms our new freedoms have made possible,” he said.
Lord Frost added that divergence from EU rules was now a “national necessity”. He said: “To some extent unnoticed, we’re making changes to the nuts and bolts of some of the core frameworks underpinning the economy.”
While the unelected cabinet minister outlined a wide range of responsibilities covering trade and economic policy, he said that fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he negotiated last winter, was his “top priority”. The deal leaves Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, and it created with the rest of the UK a trade border down the Irish sea.
“When we discuss trade in this country, we cannot forget that our most urgent and pressing problem, an issue of the highest national interest, is to make sure we can trade freely within our own country. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” Lord Frost said.
His comments come after Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said that the UK would “absolutely not” trigger Article 16 and effectively override the protocol before Christmas.
Lord Frost also outlined a suite of planned reforms for the economy including data reform, medical licensing, artificial intelligence and more.
The minister underlined his position on Covid-19 restrictions, suggesting he was against the imposition of future restrictions, including those in the government’s own ‘Plan B’ for this winter, should the NHS become overwhelmed.
“I am very happy that free Britain, or at least merry England, is probably now the freest country in the world as regards Covid restrictions. No mask rules, no vaccine passports. Long may it remain so,” he said.
Yet Lord Frost also said he was worried about “constraints” on what can be said in the public arena. And he underscored the government’s goal “to reduce taxes” despite raising them to the highest level in decades.