“I’m here to explain, not tell.”
David Frost is the opposite of the strident, high-voltage Brexiteer. Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser does not possess the bombast of a Nigel Farage. Instead, the U.K.’s chief negotiator comes across as a mild-mannered, suburban bank manager, patiently running through the terms and conditions on a new product — in this case, explaining to a skeptical Brussels audience that Brexit is in fact an exciting “revolution.”
Frost’s speech at the Université Libre de Bruxelles Monday evening — a rare public appearance for an influential figure driving Johnson’s Brexit policy — was part history lesson and part exercise in red line drawing. The U.K. government is comfortable with the hardest of Brexits on trade: tariff barriers, quotas and the rest. “We understand the trade-offs. Some people say we don’t but we do,” he said.
But Frost also wanted to paint Brexit not as some freak event — an aberration that jilted Remainers might reverse in a decade — but rather running with the grain of history. Even as other anti-EU movements in France, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere are toning down their rhetoric in the face of the realities of the U.K.’s departure, Frost sought to frame Brexit as part of a Continent-wide counter-revolution against the EU. When voters can’t effect change, he said, “opposition becomes expressed as opposition to the system itself.”
Britain was first to the door because it had always felt an ambivalent “political absenteeism” from the European project. Rather than Brexit being an unexpected happening, Frost suggested that “Britain was more like a guest who’d had enough of a party whilst trying to find a way to slip out.”
With the U.K.