Tory civil war on knife-edge as Lord Frost tipped to back party leadership challenge

David Frost explains why he resigned from Government

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Lord Frost quit the cabinet last month after reportedly becoming disenchanted by a host of Boris Johnson’s recent policy choices, particularly over tough Covid restrictions, tax hikes and ‘net zero’ green policies. He told the Mail on Sunday, in his first interview since he stood down, that Mr Johnson should not leave office, but should instead set a different tone about the country’s “direction of travel”.

This, according to Lord Frost, would include being more “proud of our history”, “getting the country going economically again” – meaning “free markets, free debate and low taxes” – and producing a sense that “something is changing here”.

But his remarks have been questioned by historian and Visiting Research Fellow at KCL Helene von Bismarck.

She dismissed the article in which his interview featured as a “puff piece”, writing in a post on Twitter: “A man who was never elected to anything shares his vision for the country in general and the Conservative Party in particular.”

Lord Frost stressed that his departure from Government – along with his subsequent comments – was not a matter of questioning Mr Johnson’s leadership qualities, or indeed Mr Johnson as a person.

He said: “I think he was sad to see me go. I’m sad to go in that sense.

“But it was about policy. It wasn’t about anything else and I think he understood.”

Ms von Bismarck was not so certain, suggesting Mr Frost’s actions were part of an attempt to change the top ranks of the Tory party.

She believes his interview is laced with “more than a hint of a looming leadership contest”.

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In a later clarification, she wrote: “By more than a hint I don’t mean that he would run, only that he would support a hawkish candidate.”

Speculation persists about who could fit the bill were a leadership bid to be launched.

A recent YouGov poll suggested nearly half of Tory voters believe Chancellor Rishi Sunak would make a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson.

The Bruges Group, responding to Lord Frost’s “powerful and timely” comments, warned the Prime Minister must not wait to change the direction of his Government.

It said: “The time for Boris to make a course correction is now.

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“With an 80-seat majority, he must seize the day and pass legislation which takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by Brexit.

“Animal sentience and the green agenda should take a back seat.”

This follows remarks by the Chairman of Britain’s oldest conservative think tank, the Bow Group, who believes people are calling time on Mr Johnson’s leadership of the Tory party over his “Blairite politics”.

Ben Harris-Quinney told Mr Johnson “has lost what trust he had in the conservative movement, over issues like immigration” and “his green agenda”.

He said: “I believe he will limp on as leader, but it will be very difficult for him to now regain that trust with his 2019 voters.”

Mr Harris-Quinney added that Mr Johnson could face a “serious leadership challenge” after the next general election – in 2024 at the latest – which is “likely to return Britain to the territory of hung parliaments or very small majorities”.

Recent polling also suggested the Prime Minister is on shaky ground, with the majority of voters believing his Government has done a “bad job” on every measure – including managing immigration, handling Brexit and dealing with crime – since 2019 other than rolling out the Covid vaccine.

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