Brexit: Boris Johnson's humiliation by Luxembourg could damage prospects of deal, EU worries

Politicians and diplomats concerned about Xavier Bettel's forthright criticism

Jon Stone
Tuesday 17 September 2019 16:36 BST
Boris Johnson explains why he did not take part in a press conference alongside Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel

Boris Johnson's humiliation at the hands of Luxembourg will make a Brexit deal harder to reach and could make a no-deal more likely, some on the EU side believe.

Norbert Röttgen, chair of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee and a senior MP from Angela Merkel's party, was among those to publicly criticise the Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel on Tuesday.

Mr Bettel had strongly criticised Mr Johnson and the UK government and empty-chaired the British prime minister after he refused to take part in a planned press conference in Luxembourg on Monday.

"Xavier Bettel’s speech yesterday did not serve the European cause," Mr Röttgen, a former minister in Ms Merkel's government warned.

"His public venting ignored that a deal is still in everyone’s interest. Even without a deal there will be a post-Brexit life, which means that right now everyone needs to behave in a way that avoids animosity."

One EU diplomat in Brussels suggested that Mr Bettel had gone too far and "reinforced the us versus them narrative" in the UK.

Another accused Luxembourg's leader of playing into the hands of hard Brexiteers back in the UK who wanted a no-deal.

Mr Johnson's reception in Luxembourg was at odds with the diplomatic approach taken by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to the new prime minister in recent visit to Berlin and Paris.

Then, rhetoric was kept on a leash and both leaders had stressed that they were open to looking at any concrete solution that the UK could produce to replace the backstop.

However, with no proposals from the UK forthcoming after nearly a month since Boris Johnson set himself a 30-day deadline, patiences are fraying across the continent.

During Monday's visit Mr Bettel warned an absent Mr Johnson that that the “clock is ticking”, adding on Monday: “Stop speaking and act.”

But the comments enraged Conservatives back in Westminster. Even pro-EU figures such as Sir Nicholas Somes, who has lost the Tory whip, criticised what he called the "very poor behaviour" of the Luxembourg government.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith dredged up memories of the Second World War, saying: “The irony is that Luxembourg was saved by Britain. National leaders should always treat one another with courtesy and civility. Good ones do.”

And Nigel Evans, the joint secretary of the backbench 1922 committee, said Mr Bettel’s stunt was “another reason why the British people voted the way we did”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in