Brexit is working and anyone who says it has hit the economy and trade has an axe to grind, the former Brexit negotiator David Frost has said on the sixth anniversary of the UK voting to leave the EU.
Lord Frost stopped short of painting a picture of “sunny uplands” but said official figures used to predict a 4% decline in output caused by Brexit were “zombie” numbers, based on academic studies of former communist countries, and not fact.
“Those studies primarily looked at the effect of opening up badly run ex-communist and ex-authoritarian autarchic economies in which opening up was producing huge improvements to the policy regime more generally, and in which the gains came from these broader improvements not just from trade,” he said.
His comments come a day after a report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank said Brexit was damaging the competitiveness of UK exports and making the cost of living crisis worse for households. It was dismissed by the Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as a “regurgitation of ‘project fear’”.
Frost said on Thursday: “The view that Brexit is hitting us from an economic and trade perspective is generated by those with an axe to grind and cannot be supported by any objective analysis of the figures. The UK has grown at much the same pace as other G7 countries since the referendum and, as the ONS points out, our goods exports to the EU are at the highest level ever.”
He said the picture since 2020 was clouded by trade disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the supply chain crisis. It might never be possible to determine the impact of Brexit alone, he told the annual conference of the UK in a Changing Europe organisation.
In a wide-ranging keynote speech, made as the EU threw its arms around Ukraine and Moldova with a plan to give them candidate membership status, Frost asked how long Brussels would continue to “hassle and lecture us”. He suggested if the EU wanted a stronger relationship with the UK, it would need to adjust its behaviour in Northern Ireland and more broadly.
Frost also questioned why the UK government had not threatened to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol when it unveiled draft legislation to override the Brexit arrangements last week. “I’m kind of intrigued as to why article 16 isn’t there? I think there are some traces in the government’s legal opinions [which] just ruled it out as a way forward … Obviously it would enable you to act much more quickly than the bill does,” he said.
But he backed the foreign secretary Liz Truss’s controversial bill, saying there had been “no serious discussion” of the solutions put forward by the UK in a command paper last summer.
He said: “Brexit is working. We have no cause for regrets about the decision the country has taken. The solutions to the remaining problems are not to be found in going backwards, but in completing the process and following through on its logic.”
Frost played a leading role in the Brexit negotiations, first as an adviser to Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and then as the prime minister’s Brexit trade negotiator. While he won plaudits among Brexiters for sealing a trade deal in December 2020, his continued criticism of Europe has antagonised many in Brussels.
He suggested on Wednesday it was up to the EU to restore relations: “Does the EU want Brexit to work? Can it rise above the current frictions and work with the UK as a trusted partner, or will it continue to hassle and lecture us?”