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On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pulled out of a press conference with Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, amid anti-Brexit protests. According to CNN, British officials had requested the conference be moved inside. Officials in Luxembourg responded by saying there was no indoor space that was adequately sized to hold this press conference. Bettel proceeded with the outdoor conference as planned, leaving Johnson’s empty podium next to him on stage.
The protesters were made up of mostly United Kingdom nationals living in Luxembourg, according to U.K. newspaper The Independent. Approximately 200 protestors showed up to the conference, carrying signs, chanting, and playing the EU anthem, Ode to Joy (The Independent). Johnson claims he wanted to move the conference inside because the level of noise from the protests may have drowned out Bettel and that wouldn’t “have been fair to the Prime Minister” (CNN). His actions were criticized by lawmakers in the U.K.. Labour MP Ian Murray commented “Boris Johnson is proving to be such a liar that he probably promised himself to turn up to the press conference. It just shows that he has nothing to say so avoids the scrutiny. He can’t provide any answers to his empty promises so decides to hide. Chicken promises from a chicken PM”.
Bettel also used Johnson’s absence as an opportunity to criticize his handling of Brexit. Bettel said that Brexit has been a “nightmare”, asserting “you can’t hold our future hostage for party political gains” (CNN). Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson, said that Johnson’s behavior is an embarrassment, adding, “he is determined to drag us out of the E.U., whatever the cost, and his disingenuous pretense otherwise is being revealed for all to see” (The Independent).
The purpose of Johnson’s visit to Luxembourg was to meet with E.U. Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the future of Brexit negotiations. Johnson has made clear that he will not ask for an extension to the new October 31st deadline, but recent legislation passed in the U.K. Parliament requires Johnson to request an extension if an agreement is not ratified by October 19th. CNN reports that a U.K. government source says the talks between Johnson and Juncker went well, saying the two “agreed to intensify talks”. But a spokesperson from the European Commission says otherwise. In discussing the Irish border, The Independent reports that a European Commission spokesperson said “President Juncker recalled that it is the U.K.’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement. President Juncker underlined the Commission’s continued willingness and openness to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop. Such proposals have not yet been made”.
Brexit frustration has been growing not just in the U.K., but across the whole of the European Union. The deadline for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has already been extended once, as U.K. MPs and the E.U. have continuously been unable to come to an agreeable plan. There have been a number of contentious issues, but the most pressing problem remains the Irish Backstop. This is the effort to create a plan that would prevent a hard border being reinstated between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland should the U.K. leave the EU without a deal. Many fear that a hard border would reignite the sectarian conflicts that fueled The Troubles, which lasted from the 1960s to late 1990s.
The conflict of the Irish border is a perfect example of the chaos that Brexit has the potential to create. Prominent figures in the health industry are now saying that a no-deal Brexit could lead to medication shortages across the U.K.. Fears of food shortages and unpredictable impacts on the U.K. economy have also become growing concerns. Brexit also has worrying implications for the unity of the international community. The European Union has been one of the strongest coalitions for so long, demonstrating many of the positive impacts that multilateral cooperation can have. More countries today, however, are turning towards more isolationist policies. Many believe that the original push for Brexit was founded on an anti-immigration sentiment. In a world that is facing growing refugee, migrant, and humanitarian crises, international cooperation is needed more than ever. Global communities need to be coming together, not pulling farther apart.