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The U.K. minister in charge of post-Brexit negotiations has resigned in the latest blow to Boris Johnson, whose government is at war with itself over how how to respond to a surge in coronavirus cases.

In a strongly worded resignation letter, David Frost expressed his concern about the direction of Conservative Party policy, implied he was unhappy with current Brexit thinking and said the country needs to learn how to coexist with COVID-19.

He offered to quit a week ago and the pair agreed he’d move on in January, but Saturday’s report of his planned departure in the Daily Mail prompted him to exit the government immediately.

The departure of such a pivotal figure in Johnson’s sphere comes on the heels of greater restrictions — including vaccine passports — to combat the spread of the omicron variant.

“We also need to learn to live with Covid and I know that is your instinct too,” Frost wrote to Johnson. “I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.”

With U.K. infections surging and the government’s chief scientific advisers warning that cases in England could be running in the hundreds of thousands a day, speculation is rife that the Cabinet, of which Frost is a member, is discussing further lockdown measures.

The sudden resignation adds to the sense of crisis around a prime minister who has suffered embarrassments in recent weeks and, for a populist premier, an unprecedented slump in popularity. Only yesterday, the civil servant charged with investigating allegations that government officials held lockdown-busting parties last year had to quit because he himself had hosted a similar gathering.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No. 10 Downing Street in London on Saturday. | REUTERS
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No. 10 Downing Street in London on Saturday. | REUTERS

Election rout

During the week, Johnson also had to endure the withering result of a special election as voters in a historically safe Tory seat handed the party a resounding defeat. Earlier, the prime minister suffered the biggest Conservative rebellion of his tenure when 100 members of Parliament opposed his strategy for clamping down on the new variant.

The main opposition Labour Party leapt on the latest development.

“The government is in chaos,” said Baroness Jenny Chapman, the shadow minister of state at the Cabinet Office. “The country needs leadership not a lame duck PM who has lost the faith of his MPs and cabinet.”

Frost’s written comments suggest that Parliament vote was the last straw for a politician held dear by rank-and-file Tories for his no-nonsense negotiating on Brexit and his espousal of personal freedom and responsibility. He is, according to the most recent Conhome poll, the second-most popular Cabinet minister among Tory grassroots.

“I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low tax, entrepreneurial economy,” Frost wrote.

Hardball

Frost was the person who led the negotiations over Brexit, Johnson’s signature move as leader, and the two men had seen eye to eye in their efforts to play hardball with the European Union.

Frost has been threatening to suspend some U.K. obligations under the Brexit agreement and persuaded EU negotiators to offer a series of concessions relating to the status of Northern Ireland.

Still, the U.K. government has dialed back its threats in recent weeks as the political pressure on Johnson rose. On Friday, Frost issued a conciliatory statement saying he was happy to let talks with the EU run into the new year.

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