The resignation came after The Sunday Times reported that Frost had handed his resignation in earlier this month, but agreed to stay until January after Johnson told him the government couldn’t cope with a high-profile departure at the moment.
In a letter to the prime minister released on the evening of Dec. 18, Frost said he was “disappointed” that his planned departure had become public and “in the circumstances, I think it is right for me to write to step down with immediate effect.”
Frost said that during Johnson’s premiership, “we have restored the UK’s freedom and independence as a country and begun the process of building a new relationship with the EU.”
But, he said, “that will be a long-term task,” and that was why it was agreed he would “move on” and “hand over the baton to others” to manage the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Frost called Johnson “an outstanding leader” and hailed his government’s record—“an end to political turbulence by implementing the referendum result, a stunning election victory, an exit from the EU which gave us full freedom about our future choices as a country, and finally putting in place the world’s broadest and indeed only zero-tariff free trade deal.”
He said “Brexit is now secure,” but he had “concerns about the current direction of travel.”
“I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change,” he said.
Frost also expressed frustration over the government’s COVID-19 measures. He praised the prime minister’s “brave decision” to open up the country in July, but said, “Sadly, it did not prove to be irreversible.”
He expressed his hope that “we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.”
Frost’s resignation has added to the pressure on Johnson, who has suffered from crisis after crisis in the past two months.
Johnson is facing an investigation over alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street during the lockdown and is struggling to fend off allegations of lying about how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was funded.
The prime minister’s authority was further dented on Dec. 14 when 100 Conservative MPs defied his leadership to vote against the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 health passes for entry to large venues—the biggest rebellion since he entered office.
On Dec. 16, the Conservative Party lost the traditionally ultra-safe North Shropshire seat to the Liberal Democrats, in a by-election triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who was forced to quit in November after being found to have breached lobbying rules.
Talking to Times Radio, Brexiteer Tory MP Andrew Bridgen described Frost’s departure as a “watershed moment” and a “devastating blow for the government and the prime minister.”
He wrote on Twitter that Johnson was “running out of time and out of friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government.”
“Lord Frost has made it clear, 100 Conservative backbenchers have made it clear, but most importantly so did the people of North Shropshire,” he wrote.
PA contributed to this report.