Lord Frost, Sounding Pessimistic About Brexit Under Labour Government, Could Find Solace in the Lessons of Waterloo

The epic defeat on the horizon belongs not to Brexit but to the Conservatives

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Lord David Frost on October 14, 2021 at London. Leon Neal/Getty Images

As one dispiriting poll on Britain’s general election follows upon another, the questions of the hour for British voters are: Has the Conservative Party met its Waterloo? And what is the fate of Brexit? 

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union certainly did have an element of the Napoleonic wars about it — of a free nation fighting for its sovereignty from a continental superstate.

Waterloo has since become synonymous with devastating and irreversible defeat. So while the Tories in their current form may be going down to annihilation, is Brexit’s fate irreversible, too?

Not so, warns Lord David Frost. In an interview with Harry Cole of the London Sun, the peer reckons that an incoming Labour Government would seek to reverse the gains that he helped to negotiate as Boris Johnson’s point man at the European Union.

You can’t trust Labour on Brexit,” he said. “I’m happy to deepen ties with any friendly country, whether in the EU or not.” There is a difference, though, between the “free trade” deal the peer negotiated and suzerainty.

“I don’t want to be governed by them, and I don’t want their laws and courts to have force in this country without us having a say,” Lord Forst admonished, concluding: “That’s what Labour want.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, takes issue with Tory warnings that her party wants to return to the EU. “My constituents voted to leave and I totally respect them and the decision that was made eight years ago now to leave the European Union.

“But do I believe the deal we got was the best deal available?” she asks, “I don’t.”

Other countries have agreements with the EU without being full members, Ms. Reeves argues — citing New Zealand — in areas such as farming, fishing, and veterinary services. 

Lord Frost counters that the reason no such agreements currently exist is due to EU insistence that the UK hew to regulatory standards set in Brussels. New Zealand is an “extremely narrow” case “a long way away” and, Mr. Cole chimed in, “very small.” 

As for the EU, it is signaling to Sir Keir Starmer and his Labour colleagues that it is not anxious to reopen negotiations with the UK. According to a report from the think tank “UK in a Changing Europe,” Brussels is aiming to “reduce its reliance on foreign partners” and devote its energies toward “strategic autonomy.” 

Rather than opening doors to a Labour administration, the report finds that “the EU is evolving in a direction which is likely to make deeper cooperation with the UK harder.” Or, as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, might say to Sir Keir in the relationship break-up refrain, “It’s not you, it’s us.”

So while Lord Frost may be pessimistic in respect of the fate of Brexit under a Labour regime, more than a little solace is possible.

Which brings me back to Waterloo itself. It may be instructive. Hillaire Belloc, in his monograph on the famous battle, wrote that while Wellington and his reactionary allies were victorious, the revolutionary ideals embodied by the French Revolution were “ultimately established.”

By substituting “Brexit” for those Jacobin objectives, we can interpret a positive response from Belloc’s book. 

So, for instance, Brexit “had been successfully maintained during too long a period for the uprooting of the political conditions” that the UK had won.  

As for the possibilities of autonomy at home and trade deals abroad, these incentives “were sufficiently sympathetic” to the general UK population “at the time to develop generously, and to grow in spite of all attempted restriction.”

So Brexit can resist attempts by the Labour Government to reverse it, if the British people have faith in freedom. Their turn from the Conservative Government is not a repudiation of the principles of Brexit but of the party that failed to deliver on the Brexit promise. 

BrexitDiarist@gmail.com


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