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Liz Truss appointed UK Brexit minister after David Frost's shock exit

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By Euronews, AP
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Britain's new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, Sept. 15, 2021.
Britain's new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, Sept. 15, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Britain's foreign secretary has been appointed lead Brexit negotiator after David Frost's shock resignation capped a week of political upheaval for the government.

Downing Street said in a statement on Sunday that Liz Truss has become the UK's co-chair of the Partnership Council and Joint Committee and will "lead the ongoing negotiations to resolve the problems arising from the current operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol."

Truss said on Twitter that she is "pleased to be taking on responsibility for the EU negotiations and wider relationship."

The European Commission's Brexit tsar, Maros Sefcovic said he took note of Truss's new role at the helm of the UK's negotiation team.

"My team and I will continue to cooperate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland," he said.

Simon Coveney, Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister, welcomed her appointment as new Brexit negotiator.

"I've worked well with Liz previously in Agriculture and more recently in Foreign Affairs. I look forward to working with her now on Brexit," he wrote on Twitter.

"Much work ahead but progress is achievable in the new year," he also said.

The EU and UK are scheduled to convene for a new round of Brexit talks in January.

Frost, who had been at the helm of the Brexit negotiations since Boris Johnson reached Downing Street in July 2019, resigned Saturday night, saying the process of leaving the EU would be a long-term job.

“That is why we agreed earlier this month that I would move on in January and hand over the baton to others to manage our future relationship with the EU," he stated in his resignation letter.

However, the Mail on Sunday said earlier that he resigned because of growing disillusionment with Johnson’s policies.

The newspaper said Frost’s decision was triggered by last week’s introduction of new pandemic restrictions, including a requirement that people show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues.

And in his resignation letter, Frost said the UK needed to “learn to live with Covid.”

“You took a brave decision in July, against considerable opposition, to open up the country again. Sadly it did not prove to be irreversible, as I wished, and believe you did too.”

“I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere,” Frost said in his letter.

Johnson said in reply that he "was very sorry" to receive Frost's resignation, adding that he was "very grateful" for his contribution to this government.

Michel Barnier, the EU's long-time former Brexit negotiator, wrote on Twitter that with Frost's resignation, "a long page has been turned".

"He never convinced me of any added value from Brexit, neither for the UK nor for us.

"I will, however, remember a clever minister, convinced of his idea of sovereignty, with whom we agreed the Norther Ireland Protocol in 2019 and a barebone trade and cooperation agreement in 2020. I think he always underestimated the unity of Europeans, our attachment to the single market and the mandate I had from EU's leaders," he added.

The news of Frost's departure follows a stunning defeat for Johnson’s Conservative Party in a by-election Thursday in North Shropshire, a long-time party stronghold.

Earlier this week, 99 Conservative lawmakers voted against so-called vaccine passports in the House of Commons, the biggest rebellion in Johnson’s 2 1/2 years as prime minister.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson isn’t up to the job as the Omicron variant drives a spike in coronavirus infections.

“A government in total chaos right when the country faces an uncertain few weeks,″ Rayner tweeted. “We deserve better than this buffoonery.″

Even some of Johnson’s own party members piled on.

“The prime minister is running out of time and out of friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government,″ tweeted Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen.

“Lord Frost has made it clear, 100 Conservative lawmakers have made it clear, but most importantly, so did the people of North Shropshire.″

Frost led talks with the European Union as Johnson’s government sought to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

His resignation comes after the UK recently softened its stance in the talks with the EU over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.

The change of tone from Britain came as a surprise to many because it seemed at odds with the hard-line position of the Brexit minister, who was nicknamed “Frosty the No Man”.

Johnson's government is also under fire over reports that officials held Christmas parties last year when pandemic rules barred such gatherings.

Adding to his problems with the so-called “Partygate” scandal, Johnson's choice to investigate the claims had to step aside after he also was tied to such parties.

Simon Case, the head of the civil service, stepped aside from the investigation after the Guido Fawkes website reported Friday that his department held two parties in December 2020.

The scandal erupted when a video surfaced showing a mock news conference at which some of Johnson’s staff appeared to make light of a party that violated the pandemic rules.

Until that time, the PM had steadfastly denied government officials had broken any lockdown rules.

The Times of London newspaper reported Saturday that one of the events held by Case’s department was listed in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” and was organised by a member of Case’s team.

The Cabinet Office said Friday that the event was a virtual quiz in which a small number of people who had been working together in the same office took part from their desks.

“The Cabinet secretary played no part in the event but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office,’’ the office said in a statement.

“No outside guests or other staff were invited or present. This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.”