Friday 18 October 2019

Boos greet PM as EU underlines its solidarity with Ireland's stance

No show: Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel goes ahead with a press conference yesterday despite Boris Johnson not joining him. Photo: Reuters
No show: Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel goes ahead with a press conference yesterday despite Boris Johnson not joining him. Photo: Reuters

Sam Blewett

The prime minister of Luxembourg said EU solidarity with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is "strong" in the face of Brexit as Boris Johnson pulled out of a planned press conference after he was heckled by demonstrators.

Xavier Bettel vowed to defend Irish interests at the negotiating table, saying: "We won't accept any agreement who goes against the single market or who will be against the Good Friday Agreement."

He said Ireland will remain "in my European family" after Brexit and "the solidarity with Irish colleagues and with Leo Varadkar is strong and we won't let him alone in this topic".

Mr Bettel was due to hold a joint press conference with the British prime minister following talks in Luxembourg yesterday.

However, Mr Johnson was met by a chorus of boos from pro-EU protesters who shouted "shame on you" as he emerged from the meeting.

He then decided to only give a statement to a small group of journalists at the nearby residence of the British ambassador, saying otherwise they would have been "drowned out" by the demonstrators.

Mr Bettel went ahead with the press conference, with an empty lectern beside him.

He used the occasion to warn that EU citizens were facing mounting uncertainty due to Brexit.

"You can't hold their future hostage for party political gains," Mr Bettel said.

Gesturing to the empty space where Mr Johnson should have been, he said: "Now it's on Mr Johnson. He holds the future of all UK citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands.

"It's his responsibility. Your people, our people, count on you, but the clock is ticking. Use your time wisely."

Mr Bettel said he "deeply regrets" Brexit, but said the UK should not "put the blame on us because now they don't know how to get out of this situation they put themselves in".

During his visit to Luxembourg, Mr Johnson also sat down for a working lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, their first face-to-face talks taking place in a restaurant.

Following the meeting, the commission said Mr Johnson had still not made legally operational proposals to replace the Irish backstop.

Mr Johnson insisted to reporters that "we've got a good chance of a deal".

But he said it would require movement from the EU side and he again insisted the UK would leave - with or without a deal - on October 31.

"Over the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of work, papers have been shared but we are now in the stage where we have to start really accelerating the work.

"We've got to manage this carefully. Yes, we've got a good chance of a deal. Yes, I can see the shape of it. Everybody could see roughly what could be done," said Mr Johnson.

"But it will require movement. And it will require the system in which the EU can control the UK after we leave - the so-called backstop - to go from that treaty."

A European Commission statement released following the meeting said: "It is the UK's responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement."

However, it added, "such proposals have not yet been made".

Downing Street said the meeting was "constructive" and contact between the two sides would be stepped up.

"The leaders agreed that the discussions needed to intensify and that meetings would soon take place on a daily basis," a spokeswoman said.

Talks will also take place between the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, while Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker are to remain in touch.

Mr Johnson denied the UK's attempts at negotiations were a sham and said there is still "hard work to be done".

The UK is reluctant to produce fixed, written proposals, with sources saying they fear the EU side would just "trash it", unless the timing is right and Brussels has shown it is open to the possibility of making changes to the deal.

Irish Independent

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