Noisy pro-EU demonstrators force PM to cancel Luxembourg speech
Boris Johnson was forced to scrap his planned speech alongside his counterpart in Luxembourg because the PM feared being drowned out by the heckles of pro-EU demonstrators.
Instead his lectern was left empty by Xavier Bettel who ridiculed the PM and stuck the boot in on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson had already been greeted with cries of “Go home Boris” and “stop Brexit” when he left his two-hour lunch with EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker earlier in the day.
The PM then headed to the Ministry of State in Luxembourg City where he was again met by a noisy chorus, including chants of “bog off Boris” and “tell the truth”.
Behind the ministry’s gates, Mr Johnson maintained a smile and greeted Mr Bettel with a handshake.
It became clear during the meeting that the planned press conference had been scrapped – and Mr Johnson headed to the residence of the UK ambassador to speak to a small group of media.
He conceded that he feared “our points might’ve been drowned out” because “there was clearly going to be a lot of noise”.
“I don’t think it would’ve been fair to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Bettel appeared to be mocking the PM.
He gestured to the empty podium that had been slated for Mr Johnson.
Mr Bettel also fanned the flames, warning that EU citizens were facing mounting uncertainty due to Brexit.
“You can’t hold their future hostage for party political gains,” Mr Bettel said.
The criticism came after the EU expressed their frustrations with Mr Johnson after the “working lunch” with Mr Juncker.
Despite being described by Mr Juncker as “friendly” and as “constructive” by Downing Street, it contained tensions and there was little sign of any breakthrough.
The European Commission said Mr Juncker reminded the PM that it is the UK’s responsibility to propose “legally operational solutions” compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement and give solutions compatible with the Irish backstop.
“Such proposals have not yet been made,” said the statement after the meal at Le Bouquet Garni in Luxembourg City’s medieval heart.
Downing Street said the PM reiterated that he would pull the UK out of the bloc by the October 31 deadline – regardless of whether MPs approve a deal.
And, Number 10 added, the leaders agreed that discussions would have to “intensify” and should soon take place daily.
The setting of a closed-off restaurant situated in an 18th-century house, and not an EU or UK building, was said by officials to be a “neutral location” for their Brexit discussions.
They talked about the ongoing discussions between the UK and the EU in the hope of finding a way forward.
But their rhetoric has long suggested they remain far apart – with the Irish backstop to prevent a hard border remaining a major sticking point.
While the restaurant itself was closed to the public, the streets were not and British Remain-backers headed to the square to call on the PM to hold another referendum or revoke Article 50.
“I think the whole referendum was based on a pack of lies,” said Anthea MacDonald, a retired teacher who has gained dual citizenship from Luxembourg since the referendum.
“And as time has gone on, more and more people have come to realise that they would rather Remain.”
A police officer approached the protesters to politely ask them to move on.
He asked the crowd which side of the debate they were on.
“We want to stay in the EU,” they told him.
“Good,” he replied, sticking two thumbs up and grinning.
The protesters returned after their own lunches and made voices known to the PM, largely drowning out questions from the press.
Mr Johnson hastily left in a car without giving any answers and went to the Ministry of State where he would be empty lecterned.