Britain’s Boris Johnson said on Monday that a Brexit deal was beginning to emerge, but the EU said he offered nothing to break the impasse during a visit to Luxembourg where he was harangued loudly by protesters and rebuked for trying to shift the blame.
“Don’t make the EU the bad guy,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said after a meeting with Johnson, describing the uncertainty over the timing and conditions of Britain’s exit from the European Union as a “nightmare”.
The British prime minister joined European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch at the Bouquet Garni restaurant, an 18th-century building of bare stone walls and low ceilings in the medieval heart of Luxembourg.
A British official said their lunch included pan-cooked chicken oysters and butter-roasted pollock with creamy risotto.
Johnson was heckled from start of his visit with dozens of Britons – many of them retirees living in Luxembourg – booing, chanting and holding banners outside the restaurant.
The crowd and the booing swelled when he went on to meet Bettel, where at least 50 protesters waiting behind the gates created a scene that seemed out of place in the usually sedate centre of Luxembourg.
There were chants of “Fascist!”, “Stop the coup! Tell the truth!” and “Shame on Boris”, and the protesters played bursts of music that included the EU’s “Ode to Joy” anthem and “I can’t get no satisfaction”.
Johnson was due to address journalists alongside Bettel in the courtyard after their meeting but left straight away, saying later that it wouldn’t have been fair on the Luxembourg prime minister to hold a news conference amid a din of protests.
With less than seven weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU, Johnson has yet to reach an agreement with Brussels on how to manage the separation between the world’s fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading partner.
‘STOP SPEAKING – ACT’
Johnson is hoping a Brexit deal can be clinched at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18.
“Yes, there is a good chance of a deal, yes I can see the shape of it, everybody can see roughly what could be done,” he told reporters after his Luxembourg meetings.
However, the European Commission said London had still not proposed an alternative to the Irish backstop that has stymied a deal on Britain’s exit from the EU, giving a more downbeat read-out of the meeting between Juncker and Johnson.
Johnson reiterated that Britain would leave the European Union on its Oct. 31 divorce date, deal or no deal, and would not request a delay.
However, his office said it had been agreed at the Luxembourg lunch that talks to find a deal would intensify.
Negotiations would be raised to a political level – between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay – from the technical-level talks of recent weeks, and meetings would take place daily.
The future of the land border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland is the central issue of disagreement both between Johnson and the EU and between him and British lawmakers. Britain’s parliament three times rejected a deal negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May which included the so-called backstop mechanism to keep the border open.
Juncker told Johnson over lunch that he must present workable proposals to replace the Brexit backstop.
“President Juncker recalled that it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement,” the European Commission said in a statement, referring to the deal struck by May. “Such proposals have not yet been made.”
Bettel took a harsher line in his remarks after escorting Johnson out, urging the British prime minister to “stop speaking and act” and to stop trying to pass the blame to the EU for the consequences of a decision taken by the British people in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Our people need to know what is going to happen to them in six weeks time. They need clarity, they need certainty and they need stability. You can’t hold their future hostage for party political gains,” he said to applause and loud cheers from the protesters.
“So now it’s on Mr Johnson, he holds the future of all the 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.”