LORD David Frost’s speech last week in Lisbon, unsurprisingly, incorporated many remarkable elements.

Among them, as he endeavoured to answer his own question, ‘Can we fix the UK/EU relationship?’, was the following declaration from the Brexit minister: “At some point we must both try to raise our eyes to the horizon, look at the possibilities for better relations, and try to help each other solve problems, not create them.”

The unelected peer, who negotiated the UK’s departure from the European single market and was appointed as a full member of the Boris Johnson Cabinet from March 1, hammered home his belief that the Northern Ireland protocol should be changed in his speech in Lisbon.

It was obviously a political speech, in stark contrast to how, for example, an economist or business leader might have assessed the impact of Brexit in an objective way.

However, even in this context, the degree to which Lord Frost waxed lyrical about what he sees as benefits of Brexit and crucially the lack of any kind of real acknowledgement of the problems caused, beyond the albeit significant ones related to the Northern Ireland protocol, were incredible.

It was also a speech which seemed to signal a continuing British wish to have its cake and eat it, to use a proverb adapted by Mr Johnson to the Brexit situation.

Mr Johnson ebulliently used this imagery again after agreeing the UK’s hard Brexit deal in late December last year.

Time has told a very different story, as the UK economy has been dragged down by woes for the country’s exporters, labour and skills shortages, and supply-chain chaos. Businesses and the population at large are most certainly not having their cake and eating it.

Rather, businesses and households the length and breadth of the UK are paying the price for the Tory hard Brexit.

Lord Frost’s speech, most demoralisingly, gave no indication at all that the Johnson administration will be moving to help those laid low by the Brexit odyssey.

Rather, Lord Frost talked much about what he perceives to be benefits of leaving the European single market, supposed advantages which to say the very least seem most obscure and narrow in the context of the overall post-Brexit landscape.

Lord Frost declared: “Brexit is about doing things differently – not for the sake of it but because it suits us and because it creates a greater variety of alternative futures. History shows us that it is genuine competition – regulatory and commercial – between states which has typically been the most reliable driver of innovation and progress.

“That’s why what some people call I quote ‘hard Brexit’ – in its original sense of leaving the EU customs union and single market – was essential. It was the only form of Brexit that allowed us freedom to experiment and freedom to act. This is already happening. And you can see some themes emerging reflecting our different policy preferences in the UK.”

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The “not for the sake of it but because it suits us” is a most interesting collection of words.

Many people would surely be forgiven for being unable to discern any meaningful difference between the two things.

Then again, “suits us” is certainly more accurate than, for example, if Lord Frost had said “benefits us”, given the latter is quite the opposite of what has happened in the wake of Brexit on myriad fronts.

And “because it suits us” might also to some who have watched the unfolding drama in relations between the UK and European Union, regardless of how the Brexit minister meant the phrase, give the impression of a thrawn approach. To take just one example, refusal to accept regulatory alignment in the Brexit deal looked most thrawn.

The reference to “a greater variety of alternative futures” following the Tories’ chosen form of Brexit is also interesting. Nothing about the alternative future which has manifested itself so far has looked good.

In a speech so, so heavy on ideology and politics and very light on conventional economics, it was difficult to find much at all, if anything, that might reassure businesses.

If you had to come up with something that could be seen even vaguely as a positive, it might be the following from Lord Frost: “On border controls, even when they are fully in place, we are never going to adopt the same levels of checks and controls required by EU systems because we don’t believe the level of risk requires them.”

The “even when they are fully in place” is notable. The UK had to delay border checks for inbound goods from the EU for months following its European single market exit because it was not prepared for them, something that seems remarkable given that “quote hard Brexit” was something the Johnson administration planned all the way along.

That said, it might be a relief to businesses and households that the UK will not be adopting “the same level of checks and controls required by EU systems” given the degree to which supply chains are in chaos even before the border controls get going in earnest.

However, any consolation here is about limiting how much worse things get, rather than about improving the dire post-Brexit situation.

What were held up by Lord Frost as benefits of Brexit were, to put it mildly, unconvincing.

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He talked about a “renewed emphasis on the modern use of science”, gave his view that England was “arguably…the free-est country in Europe” in opening up amid the coronavirus pandemic, and declared: “We are also going to get moving on areas like cyber, like artificial intelligence and gene editing.”

It is difficult to see how most of these aspects have anything to do with Brexit.

And Lord Frost certainly seemed to rather skate over the UK’s loss of frictionless trade with the EU, as if it were a theoretical rather than real-world thing.

He said: “Too often the debate about Brexit is technocratic – the merits of one kind of trading arrangement over another, the merits of one visa arrangement over another. Those are important issues, if now largely settled. But the fundamental element of the Brexit project is about democracy – to bring home political debates, to allow us to set our own ways of doing things in our own way, to open up the field of political and economic possibility.”

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Lord Frost cited “vigorous debates about the direction of the UK’s independent trade policy, with Parliament bringing different viewpoints to the table”.

He added: “We have a very lively discussion of migration policy, freed by the debate over free movement to offer unprecedented immigration and visa schemes to tens of thousands from Hong Kong and, more recently, Afghanistan. And indeed our whole levelling up programme is about the trade-offs between different kinds of economic policy in different parts of the country. That’s why I don’t see anything wrong with Brexit being described as a populist policy.”

The “very lively discussion” on migration policy is an interesting way of putting it. The Conservatives have clamped down on immigration from the EU, fuelling labour and skills shortages, and the visa schemes mentioned by Lord Frost surely do not have any significant bearing in this overall context.

Sectors including haulage, hospitality, engineering, social care and food manufacturing, to name just a handful, are bearing the brunt of the Conservative clampdown on immigration from the EU.

However, this was not something Lord Frost sought to address in his speech.

He seemed most upbeat about Brexit, and its context. Lord Frost said: “If populism means doing what people want – challenging a technocratic consensus – then I am all for it. To suggest that there is something wrong in people deciding things for themselves is somewhat disreputable, even disrespectful to the British people and our democracy.”

However, surely a democratically elected government would want to take decisions to enhance and not damage living standards?

Lord Frost said in Lisbon: “We didn’t want it to be like this. We just want friendly relations, free trade, and the chance to do things our own way, all within the framework of a meaningful and robust Western alliance.”

The key part of this from the Johnson administration’s perspective, for anyone who has followed events in the run-up to and in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European single market, is surely “the chance to do things our own way”.

Or, as Lord Frost also put it, doing things “because it suits us”.

What the UK Government has been doing has certainly appeared to suit many Brexit supporters. And its Brexit crusade was the key factor in Mr Johnson’s December 2019 general election victory, so it has suited the ruling Conservatives.

It has, however, not suited businesses trying to export, or to manufacture, or hire suitably qualified staff. And it will not suit households affected by the hit to the UK’s economic prosperity and living standards.

Sadly, from Lord Frost’s speech and everything else you hear from the Johnson Cabinet, it seems the UK Government is more interested in suiting itself and currying favour with Brexit supporters who have been so important to its overall popularity than in trying to mitigate the economic woes.

It seems the Johnson administration is unable in the context of Brexit to address what is right in front of its nose, let alone raise its “eyes to the horizon”, and is far more interested in populist, nationalist navel-gazing.