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by Alain Tolhurst
17 September 2019
Luxembourg prime minister attacks Boris Johnson as he ducks press conference due to protests

Luxembourg's prime minister Xavier Bettel - Image credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Luxembourg prime minister attacks Boris Johnson as he ducks press conference due to protests

Luxembourg’s prime minister has torn into Boris Johnson over his approach to Brexit negotiations after protesters forced him to duck a press conference.

Xavier Bettel accused the Prime Minister of failing to come up with concrete proposals for replacing the Irish backstop – the UK's key demand in the ongoing talks.

Speaking after talks between the pair, he said he and fellow European leaders will not accept any responsibility “for the mess we are in at the moment”.

Bettel's comments came as he stood next to an empty podium where Boris Johnson was supposed to be standing for a joint press conference.

But Johnson refused to take part in the outdoor event because of the presence of noisy protesters nearby.

Downing Street sources said they had asked for the press conference to take place inside but had been rebuffed by their hosts.

Hitting out at the lack of detailed alternatives to the backstop being provided by the UK, Bettel said: “I won't give an agreement to ideas. We need written proposals and the time is ticking, so stop speaking, but act.”

Asked about comments by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay suggesting a post-Brexit transition period between the UK and EU could be extended until 2022, the Luxembourg PM said: “People want clarity and as soon as possible.

“To speak of new delays just to postpone things is not in the interests of our citizens.

“The fact is our citizens want to have certainty. As long as they don't know what is going to happen, they don't know what will be their own future.

“So even we say it's for one year or more, or two years and this time will be needed to find new decisions. This is a nightmare.”

Criticising MPs for repeatedly rejecting the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May, Bettel said: “Don’t make it like the European Union would be the bad guy not accepting decisions that the UK proposes.

“They accepted it and it is not under my responsibility if they are not able to find a United Kingdom back in London and in the House of Commons.”

He added: “So now it's on Mr Johnson. He holds the future of all EU citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands.”

Gesturing towards the empty podium where the PM would have been, Bettel said: “It's his responsibility. Your people, our people, count on you. But the clock is ticking. Use your time wisely.”

Johnson, who had earlier had lunch with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, said he had chosen not to appear at the press conference because his “points might have been drowned out”.

Asked whether proposals have been made to the EU on the backstop, after Juncker said Brussels was still waiting for them, he said “papers have been shared”.

“But we are now in the stage where we have to really start accelerating,” he said. “that was the agreement today.”

The PM said he could “see the shape” of a deal emerging, but it would require the “system by which the EU can control the UK after we leave, the so-called backstop, to go”.

And he said: “I think we've got actually just the right amount of time to do a deal between now and October 17-18.

“But if we can't do it by then we will make sure we can come out on October 31, deal or no deal.”

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