Around 80 protesters gathered outside the Ministry of State, in Place de Clairefontaine in Luxembourg-ville, on Monday afternoon on the occasion of a meeting between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
Upon his arrival at the Ministry, Boris Johnson was booed by the group of protesters who had mobilised under the initiative “British in Luxembourg”, led by protest organiser David Pike. The protest was held from 12:00, with its numbers growing from around 14:00 when Mr Johnson was set to arrive. A large number of local, international and British press were also present.
Xavier Bettel’s speech
Rather than delivering his press statement as planned, the British Prime Minister ultimately left his Luxembourgish counterpart alone to address the press – and the protesters, for whom the latter showed strong support. In an impassioned speech, Xavier Bettel recalled that Luxembourg's priorities in Brexit negotiations have and always will be "the preservation of the single market", followed by the need for "a deal that protects the Good Friday Agreement and avoids a hard border on the Irish island at all costs". The Luxembourgish Prime Minister added: "The only solution that is currently on the table that meets all this criteria is the Withdrawal Agreement that we agreed on in November last year with the negotiator Michel Barner, and which got support by all the 27 members and also by the European Parliament".
He also stated that the EU "will not grant another extension just for the sake of granting another extension", and that the citizens involved urgently needed "clarity, certainty and stability". In this regard, Mr Bettel confirmed that: "There are no concrete proposals for the moment on the table". Xavier Bettel added that whilst Boris Johnson had assured him at their meeting of his understanding that the EU needs “more than ideas” in order to secure a new deal, the only deal that stands remained that agreed with former British Prime Minister Theresa May. He recalled that "the clock is ticking" and expressed strong solidarity with Ireland and Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel concluded by reiterating that Brexit was primarily the result of party politics (that of the UK's Conservative Party) and was "not [his] choice". He added that his British counterpart had ruled out a second referendum and that, in this context, he (Xavier Bettel) hoped for a deal by October. The Luxembourgish Prime Minister's speech was met with a round of applause from protesters.
Reactions of protesters
When asked by Chronicle.lu how he felt about Boris Johnson’s refusal to address either the protesters or the press, protest organiser David Pike described the British leader’s actions as “appalling”. He commented that he had officially written to Mr Johnson to request he enter into dialogue with the protesters and hear their thoughts on the impact of Brexit on British citizens in the EU27. Mr Johnson declined these invitations.
On the other hand, Mr Pike, who organised the protest over the weekend after hearing news of Boris Johnson’s visit, said that Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had been “extremely supportive” of the country’s British community and their concerns over Brexit. Indeed, both prior to his meeting with the British Prime Minister and in his press statement, Mr Bettel made clear his support for the democratic right to protest.
Boris Johnson’s meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier
Prior to the meeting between the two prime ministers, Boris Johnson met with outgoing European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the EU's Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union, Michel Barnier, for a working lunch at Le Bouquet Garni in Luxembourg-ville. Following the meeting, the European Commission issued a statement in which it stated that Jean-Claude Juncker “recalled that it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement”. The statement also highlighted Juncker’s confirmation that the Commission remained willing to consider concrete proposals, although it noted that “such proposals have not yet been made”.
A spokesperson of Downing Street also released a statement, saying that the lunchtime talks had been “constructive”, and that Boris Johnson had “reconfirmed his commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and his determination to reach a deal with the backstop removed, that UK parliamentarians could support”. The statement added that the British Prime Minister had confirmed that there would be no requests for a further extension and that he “would take the UK out of the EU on the 31st October”. The statement concluded that talks would be intensified between Michel Barnier, Stephen Barclay, Jean-Claude Juncker and Boris Johnson in the run-up to this deadline.