Sept. 16 (UPI) — Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to “hold the future hostage” Monday after the latter canceled a planned news conference in response to anti-Brexit protests.
Johnson was supposed to hold a joint news conference with Bettel after a private meeting on Brexit negotiations. The bilateral meeting came after the British prime minister had a lunch meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
But protests outside the Luxembourg Ministry of State — where the Bettel-Johnson news conference was supposed to take place — prompted Johnson to scuttle the event.
Bettel went forward with the planned news conference, standing next to an empty podium where Johnson would have appeared.
“It’s on Mr. Johnson — he holds the future of all U.K. citizens,” Bettel said, encouraging Johnson not to “hold the future hostage for political party gain.”
The Luxembourg leader said Johnson has yet to present a new Brexit deal.
“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, we need written proposals.
“So stop speaking, but act.”
Earlier in the day, Johnson and Juncker expressed cautious optimism going into their meeting. Johnson promised Britain will leave the alliance on the scheduled deadline of Oct. 31, whether an EU-approved deal exists or not. British lawmakers passed a law last week forcing Johnson to request another extension if there’s no deal by Oct. 19. Johnson said a new deal could be done in weeks.
Monday’s was Johnson’s first meeting with Juncker since he replaced former Prime Minister Theresa May in July. He also met with EU chief Brexit negotiator Barnier.
Johnson has been publicly upbeat about a potential deal that would eliminate the Irish “backstop” — a protection to prevent a “hard” trade border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The European Union, however, has been insistent on a backstop mainly because it says Britain has not provided any alternatives.
The three leaders met for the working lunch at a Luxembourg restaurant. None took questions from reporters, but the trio posed for pictures at the Le Bouquet Garni restaurant before lunch.
So far, Johnson has remained steadfast in his insistence on completing the withdrawal process, which Britons voted for in 2016. There have been calls for a second referendum on the matter from members of Parliament, the public and the British business community.
In a radio interview Sunday, Juncker warned that a British departure without an agreement would be a “mess.”
An EU-sanctioned agreement brokered between May and the bloc was rejected multiple times by British Parliament, primarily because lawmakers were concerned it didn’t provide sufficient guarantees with the Irish backstop.