Chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost slams plot to 'unravel' EU exit as top politicians gather for secret summit

13 February 2023, 08:25 | Updated: 13 February 2023, 08:29

David Frost has criticised the secret summit
David Frost has criticised the secret summit. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The government's chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost has accused several senior politicians of plotting to unravel Britain's exit from the EU, after they met for a secret summit to improve relations with Europe.

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Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, ex-Tory European minister David Lidington and Theresa May’s Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins were all at the conference at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire last week, alongside Lord Mandelson and prominent Leave supporter Michael Gove.

Attendees from the private sector included pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's chair John Symonds and ex-Treasury permanent secretary Tom Scholar.

The theme of the conference was "How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?"

Lord Frost
Lord Frost. Picture: Getty

But Lord Frost, who was Brexit negotiator for Boris Johnson, said that the attendees could be planning to unstitch the agreement that he helped secure with the EU.

"This secret conference is a further piece of evidence that many in our political and business establishment want to unravel the deals we did to exit the EU in 2020 and to stay shadowing the EU instead", he told the Daily Mail.

"That’s why so many of those responsible for Theresa May’s failed backstop deal were there, while I and those who actually delivered the Brexit agreements were not.

"Brexit doesn’t need 'fixing'. It needs this Conservative Government, elected with a huge mandate on a Brexit programme, to fully and enthusiastically embrace its advantages instead of leaving the field to those who never wanted it in the first place.

There are fears that Rishi Sunak could make concessions on the Northern Ireland protocol
There are fears that Rishi Sunak could make concessions on the Northern Ireland protocol. Picture: Getty

"I and millions of others want the Government to get on with that instead of raising taxes, deterring investment and pushing public spending to its highest level for 70 years."

It comes as Brexiters are concerned that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could make big concessions on the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol that may let the European Court of Justice continue to have a role in ruling on trade there.

Crunch talks between Westminster and Brussels on the protocol are set to take place in the coming weeks.

David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, added: "The fact that such a meeting was held in conditions of such secrecy must give rise to suspicions as to its purpose.‘It’s hard to believe that closer constitutional links were not on the agenda."

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Nigel Farage, Reform Party leader and long-time Brexit advocate, wrote online: "The full sell-out of Brexit is under way. This Tory party never believed in it."

The Observer, which first reported on the conference, was told by a person who attended: “The main thrust of it was that Britain is losing out, that Brexit it not delivering, our economy is in a weak position.

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“It was about moving on from leave and remain, and what are the issues we now have to face, and how can we get into the best position in order to have a conversation with the EU about changes to the UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement when that happens?”

Two days of private discussions took place under the title “How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?”

A secret introduction statement stated that “some at least, [believe] that so far the UK has not yet found its way forward outside the EU”, with Brexit “acting as a drag on our growth and inhibiting the UK’s potential”.