This certainly doesn’t bode well for negotiations over a new Brexit withdrawal agreement – negotiations that Boris Johnson insists are making progress.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to abandon a press conference with his his counterpart in Luxembourg because a crowd of “anti-Brexit protesters” were being too loud and disruptive. In what looks like a deliberate setup organized by Brussels, Johnson was scheduled to deliver a statement outdoors alongside Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel. But when it came time for the press conference to begin, Johnson complained that the protesters would likely drown out his statement, and asked that the statement be moved in doors.
Instead of accommodating his host, Bettel refused his request, prompting Johnson to pull out of the statement. Bettel decided to continue, and with Johnson’s podium sitting empty next to him, he criticized Johnson in front of a small crowd of anti-Brexit ideologues, saying the Brexit process had turned into a “nightmare,” and that the UK had failed to present workable alternatives to Theresa May’s deal (though Johnson has definitely presented a clear vision of the concessions he needs from the EU to make the deal passable in Parliament), according to CNN.
“He holds the future of all UK citizens,” said an impassioned Bettel, gesturing at the empty podium by his side. “It’s his responsibility. Your people, our people count on you.”
As Bettel spoke, the small but noisy crowd, many of whom were British nationals living in Luxembourg, clapped and cheered.
At one point, Bettel accused Johnson and his Brexiteer backers of holding Europe’s future hostage.
Bettel went on to say that Brexit was not the choice of the EU but that of the UK’s Conservative government. “You can’t hold our future hostage for party political gains,” he said, adding: “I repeat this Brexit is not my choice.”
This is a remarkable transgression of decorum in traditionally staid European politics.
Hosts generally go out of their way to make visiting leaders feel welcome. Instead, Bettel deliberately embarrassed Johnson by refusing the UK government’s request to move the press conference venue, and then criticizing him to a crowd of anti-Brexit demonstrators.
It’s also surprising that officials would be able to attract a “crowd” of anti-Brexit protesters and British nationals in Luxembourg. It’s certainly possible that these demonstrators were acting as professional political props.
It’s all the more galling considering that Johnson was in Brussels for a meeting with outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. During a meeting and lunch – meetings Johnson’s representative described as “constructive” – the PM reportedly laid out his vision for a withdrawal agreement without the Irish backstop provision that makes it a political non-starter in the UK.
Juncker, meanwhile, said he’s not optimistic about finding an alternative, and said it was “the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement,” adding: “such proposals have not yet been made.”
Johnson also said he used the meeting to reiterate that he will not ask for an extension of Article 50 on Oct. 31 if a no-deal exit becomes unavoidable without a delay. Both sides agreed that they would need to up the pace of talks, to the point where discussions are happening every day.