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Boris Johnson pulls out of Luxembourg press conference as he's booed and jeered

A Downing Street spokesperson has also confirmed that EU and UK talks will soon take place daily.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image: Olivier Matthys via PA Images

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has pulled out of a press conference in Luxembourg as large groups of protesters jeered and booed him when he arrived for a meeting with EU officials. 

Despite Johnson not taking part, Luxembourg’s PM, Xavier Bettel, took questions from the press. A lectern from where Johnson was supposed to take questions was left in place.

The EU said this afternoon that Britain has still not proposed any workable alternatives to the Brexit backstop, following talks between bloc chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Boris Johnson.

The first face-to-face encounter between Johnson and European Commission president Juncker failed to yield any major breakthrough, although Downing Street insisted it had been a “constructive meeting”.

Johnson says Britain will not agree to a divorce deal that includes the backstop, a provision which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union to keep the Irish border open, and will not delay Brexit beyond 31 October, even if it means leaving with no deal.

Bettel, who had a meeting with Johnson following the British leader’s working lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker , was scathing about Johnson’s efforts to rewrite a withdrawal agreement the UK had struck with the EU under his predecessor Theresa May.

He echoed the EU’s message that the UK had offered up no viable alternative to the safeguards in that agreement to protect peace in Northern Ireland while respecting London’s intent to break free of EU institutions.

“For me I have just one withdrawal agreement on the table and it’s the one from last year,” Bettel said.

“There are no changes, there are no concrete proposals for the moment on the table and I won’t give an agreement to ideas,” he said, urging Britain to come up with “written proposals”.

Johnson’s absence from what was planned to be a joint media conference was highlighted on social media, where pictures of the empty British podium were relayed. 

Juncker’s office said he used the lunch meeting in Luxembourg to reiterate the EU view that it is Britain’s responsibility to come up with a workable alternative to he backstop, which was agreed by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but rejected by MPs.

“President Juncker recalled that it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement,” a statement from Juncker’s office said.

President Juncker underlined the Commission’s continued willingness and openness to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop. Such proposals have not yet been made.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson reconfirmed his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and his “determination to reach a deal with the backstop”. 

With just six weeks to go before Brexit day, the spokesperson also confirmed that discussions will soon begin to take place daily between the EU and UK, rather than twice a week at present.

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

Alongside the main meeting, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also held talks with British Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay.

According to Downing Street, it has also been agreed that talks should take place “at a political level” between Barnier and Barclay.

A small but noisy group of anti-Brexit protesters greeted Johnson as he arrived and left the talks, singing the Ode to Joy EU anthem, waving flags and chanting slogans.

Speaking this afternoon following a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary for State Julian Smith, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the British government to accept the Northern Ireland backstop.

“[The position that] Boris Johnson has moved towards falls far short of the protections that are contained in the backstop,” she said.

“We have set out again today for the Secretary of State the fact that the backstop is the bottom line.

“It’s the least worst option; it’s not perfect. But at a minimum, it covers the baseline protections [of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Includes reporting by © AFP 2019 and Stephen McDermott.

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