Johnson says he will work energetically towards Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel leaving a Brexit meeting on Monday. Mr Johnson bowed out of a news conference with Mr Bettel on Monday amid intense public protests.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel leaving a Brexit meeting on Monday. Mr Johnson bowed out of a news conference with Mr Bettel on Monday amid intense public protests.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

British leader booed by protesters, criticised by counterpart during visit to Luxembourg

LONDON/BRUSSELS • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday that he would work with energy and determination to reach a Brexit agreement and will discuss it at a meeting of the United Nations next week, his spokesman said.

After a bruising visit to Luxembourg on Monday, when Mr Johnson was booed by protesters and criticised by its Prime Minister, Mr Xavier Bettel, the British leader spoke to Dr Merkel yesterday, redoubling efforts to secure a deal to leave the European Union.

"The Prime Minister reiterated that the UK and the EU have agreed to accelerate efforts to reach a deal without the backstop, which the UK Parliament could support, and that we would work with energy and determination to achieve this ahead of Brexit on Oct 31," Mr Johnson's spokesman said.

Mr Johnson had boasted ahead of Monday's Luxembourg Brexit talks that he was like the Incredible Hulk, who gets stronger when he gets angrier. But it was European fury that was on display.

Hundreds of demonstrators booed Mr Johnson through Luxembourg City's mediaeval streets, denouncing his plans to steer the country out of the European Union on Oct 31, with or without a deal.

The protests were intense enough that Mr Johnson cancelled his half of a planned news conference alongside Mr Bettel.

And so the enduring image of the day was Mr Bettel gesturing to an empty podium, while suggesting that Mr Johnson had deceived the British public during the 2016 Brexit campaign and now was holding Europe's future "hostage for party political gains".

BLAME GAME

Before Brexit, people said to some voters that they will get money back from social insurance, that Brexit will be done in 24 hours and everything will be good... No one was able to say, 'Sorry, this is a lie.'

MR XAVIER BETTEL, Luxembourg Prime Minister, on Mr Johnson's pledge to Britain.

"Before Brexit," Mr Bettel said, "people said to some voters that they will get money back from social insurance, that Brexit will be done in 24 hours and everything will be good... No one was able to say, 'Sorry, this is a lie.'"

EU leaders have been sensitive to the idea that Mr Johnson is laying the groundwork to blame them for the failure of Brexit.

Mr Bettel pre-emptively pushed back: "Now it's on Mr Johnson - he holds the future of all UK citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands. It's his responsibility."

Mr Johnson later told Sky News that he had bowed out of the news conference because "I don't think it would have been fair to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg". He said: "I think there was clearly going to be a lot of noise, and I think our points might have been drowned out."

A spokesman for Downing Street said British officials had sought to move the session indoors. But the Luxembourg side said it did not have any space that could accommodate all the reporters.

 
 
 

Mr Johnson got a gentler reception on Monday from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker though he made clear that there had been little progress.

A Downing Street read-out of the lunch said Mr Johnson "reiterated that he would not request an extension" beyond the Oct 31 Brexit date.

But a law passed by the British Parliament mandates that he request a delay until at least Jan 31 if no transition deal has been agreed on before mid-October. His continued insistence raises questions about whether he is bluffing or preparing to defy British law.

However, on Monday, Mr Johnson said he would obey the law but would still take Britain out of the European Union at the end of October with or without a deal.

Asked during an interview with the BBC how he would get round the law, he said: "I will uphold the Constitution, I will obey the law, but we will come out on Oct 31." The Prime Minister gave no indication how he would avoid asking for an extension if there was no deal.

He told the Mail on Sunday that Britain would be like Bruce Banner, the fictional mild-mannered physicist who can transform into the Hulk when angered.

"Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them," Mr Johnson said. "We will come out on Oct 31 and we will get it done. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets."

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who currently plays the Hulk in the movies, shot back. "Boris Johnson forgets that the Hulk only fights for the good of the whole," he tweeted. "The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team, and is a disaster when he is alone."

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2019, with the headline 'Johnson says he will work energetically towards Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe