'Make what you want seem normal': David Frost and the Brexit deal - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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The Guardian wrote:Make what you want seem normal': David Frost and the Brexit deal
British chief negotiator, or ‘Great Frost’ to the PM, said short-term costs of Brexit will be outweighed by long-term benefits

For good or ill, David Frost knew how to get under Michel Barnier’s skin. The British chief negotiator’s habit in the negotiating room of dismissing the EU as “your organisation”, as if it was a bowling club, grated with his French counterpart.

“You ask for respect for your sovereignty, David, but please respect ours,” Barnier privately chided Frost. Throughout many months of talks, theirs was never the warmest of relationships. “I don’t know if they will stay in touch,” admitted one EU source.

But there was strategy at play: change conventional wisdom, the UK reasoned, and instil a genuine belief in Brussels that this administration could walk away.

Frost, 55, had recognised the importance of changing the terms of the conversation in Brussels while working in the UK’s permanent representation in the Belgian capital in the 1990s, and as deputy head of the Foreign Office’s EU external department in London.

On leaving the diplomatic service in 2013 to head the Scotch Whisky Association, he wrote a pamphlet on how to negotiate with the EU in the context of David Cameron’s renegotiation of Britain’s membership.

“Make what you want seem normal,” he said then. And in 2020 Frost would tell his team: “People get used to ideas.”

Frost – “Frosty” to his team or “the Great Frost” to the prime minister – did want a deal, albeit a thin one. He had extolled the economic value of access to the single market in the past. He had put his negotiating positions through “star chambers” of officials from Whitehall departments for interrogation, warning that ambitions should be kept within reason given Downing Street’s unwillingness to sign up to EU rules.

As he saw it, this negotiation was not about limiting damage to trade by scaling down from EU membership. It was about building up access to the single market from the basis that Britain would make its own laws, unencumbered.

The heart of the deal was known, given the UK’s red lines and the lack of time for elaborate negotiations: zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods.

British officials believed a new narrative was key to making the EU engage with Downing Street’s scepticism about “level playing field” provisions limiting the government’s right to set its own regulatory standards.

“They stressed sovereignty and taking back control constantly,” EU diplomats were privately briefed following the first round of talks in March.

Or as a British official put it: “They found it very difficult to deal with our obstinacy. It was wearying. After another session of telling them we were a sovereign equal and an independent coastal state we would all say to ourselves ‘never again’. But David [Frost] would then get us to go in and do it again.”

The British negotiators deployed the “Diet Coke manoeuvre”. “Diet Coke doesn’t make so many different flavours because of the taste,” said an official. “They do it so you are choosing between five different types of Diet Coke and a Pepsi. I would give them five different options that were more or less acceptable and get them to choose.”

Uncertainty about Britain’s commitment to staying at the negotiating table was also drilled in from the start – and amplified by the definition of a no-deal outcome as equivalent to leaving on Australian terms. “It was a Trumpian use of alternative facts,” said one EU source.

“The closer you got to the talks, the more you thought: this could end in no deal,” said another. “The closer you are to the action, the more you doubt.”

Frost himself was an enigma to the EU side. A former Foreign Office man, steeped in EU affairs through postings in Brussels and Whitehall, but now a political figure sitting as a Conservative in the House of Lords, with Johnson promising him another massive role as national security adviser.

A scholar of medieval French who had his team wear union jack branded lanyards: Frost may have been personally understated, but his negotiation had swagger.

Following the UK’s dramatic mid-October walkout, Frost had been in no rush to resume the talks even when his demands had been fully met.

Through gritted teeth, Barnier had reiterated his respect for UK sovereignty and the need for mutual compromise in a speech to the European parliament. But Frost let Brussels hang for a while. “The speech was in the morning but David was very calm and he said to hold off,” a UK source said.

He wanted to see all the Is dotted and Ts crossed on new terms of reference for the intensified talks. It would take several hours before he picked up a phone in an office in No 9 Downing Street to restart the negotiations. “David’s super power is that he is so, so calm,” said a British official.

As a consequence of this bullish approach, the negotiation was marked by public and private spats. By far the most explosive move came in September with publication of the internal market bill, rewriting the withdrawal agreement and breaking international law. “It focused minds on some of the problems in the negotiation,” said one UK source.

For others, the breach of trust was cataclysmic. Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, for whom Frost worked as private secretary when he was head of the diplomatic service, said the losses were tangible, notably the block on a swath of UK-headquartered financial services from serving the European market – a unilateral EU decision. “That doesn’t feel like it’s played out well,” Kerr said.

Time will tell. Frost has said the short-term costs of Brexit will be more than matched by long-term benefits, as the UK can plot its own way. Thanks in no small part to him, the country has the opportunity to find out.
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The Telegraph wrote:Brexiteers almost lost everything — now they have almost won everything
It is hard to underestimate how close this country came to throwing away the 2016 referendum result

TOM HARWOOD
24 December 2020 • 5:30pm

In April 2019, it seemed all was lost. Almost three years after the referendum, Theresa May’s wobbling Government initiated negotiations with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to achieve a non-Brexit Brexit. The talks were founded on the principle of surrendering our trade policy to the European Union as a member of a customs union, while acquiescing to EU regulations.

It is hard to underestimate how close this country came to throwing away the 2016 referendum result. As deadline after deadline was missed, those who lost the referendum received more and more concessions. From European Court of Justice oversight to commitments to remain chained to the EU’s failed economic model – a virtual colony trapped within the Brussels regulatory orbit. On this side of the Channel, Brexiteers were confronted daily by the scheming of a thoroughly rotten Parliament abetted by a partisan speaker and activist legal establishment.

It is from this context that we must view today. From a time almost all was lost to a moment it appears almost all has been won. Ironically the biggest symbol of Brexit failure was what acted to turn the tide. The European Parliamentary Elections should never have happened. The fact we sent pretend parliamentarians to a toothless institution of the European Union three years after we voted to leave it was astonishing. Yet it allowed the country’s despondency to turn to determination.

It was not until the Tories slipped into single figures in that election, which Nigel Farage once again won, that jittery MPs woke up. With Tories and Labour vying for third and fourth place in national polls, May’s chapter in charge had to end. And yet while the country’s leadership, and the course of the Brexit negotiations changed, the hysteria and nonsense of political discourse did not.

Formerly respected or at least level-headed people went completely off the wall. Some invented or promoted conspiracy theories, claiming that the referendum was 'rigged' or merely a devious “disaster capitalism” scheme, pretending the Prime Minister was deliberately trying to cause No Deal in order to crash the economy and help people who have shorted the pound. Even Philip Hammond bought into the latter, writing a year ago in The Times that the Prime Minister wants No Deal because he is “backed by speculators who have bet billions” on it. Faced with a soaring pound, these invented speculators must be demanding their money back today.

Sir Keir Starmer even argued that Boris’s Withdrawal Agreement itself was “a trap door to no deal”. Authority figures repeatedly told us that negotiating a Free Trade Agreement in just 11 months was unprecedented and impossible. How wrong they were. I’m not about to pretend I’ve read thousands of pages of legal text quite yet, so let me reserve full judgement. Yet if this is the first free trade deal in history to secure zero tariff and zero quota access to another market, all while avoiding ECJ jurisdiction, escaping the EU’s regulatory orbit, and ending membership fees, all in the space of 11 months then that is truly a feat to be proud of.

In the BBC’s 2016 Wembley debate, days before the referendum, the PM said "They say we can't do it. We say we can. They say we have no choice but to bow down to Brussels. We say they are woefully underestimating this country and what it can do".

For the years of increasingly depressing talk of 'dynamic alignment', 'a common rulebook', 'a single customs territory' and ECJ jurisdiction, you would have been forgiven for thinking that belief was wrong. Yet today Boris rubbished those words in his press conference, saying they have been banished to this history books.

Echoing the Wembley debate all those years ago, the PM said this deal "achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable but which they were told was impossible.” ‘Believe in Britain’ is a phrase that is widely mocked throughout the chattering classes. For many, they prefer to project an idea of Britain as washed up and irrelevant with its best days in the past.

Well today, perhaps, that should change. We should all be willing and able to recognise an achievement. Good will and belief in your country is no bad thing. Happy Brexmas.

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