The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: Boris Got Owned By the Prime Minister of Luxembourg

In this video grab taken from AFP TV footage on September 16, 2019, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel gestures to an empty podium as he speaks to the press after a meeting with the British Prime Minister, EU Commission President and officials in Luxembourg.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by KILIAN FICHOU/AFP/Getty Images

Along with much of the rest of British society, Brexit has divided the surviving Beatles. Ringo Starr voted leave in 2016, describing the EU as a “shambles.” He later argued, “The people voted and, you know, they have to get on with it.” But Paul McCartney told the BBC this week that original referendum as “probably a mistake” and that the arguments made in the runup to it were “crazy promises.” However, he did not vote. Hopefully they can still come together, but all you need is another installment or This Week in Brexit:

This week in Boris: It was a week of not-so-great optics for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Being photographed in awkward situations—ziplines, chicken coops—is a big part of Johnson’s brand. But this week’s most embarrassing photo-op was one he didn’t appear in.

On Tuesday, Johnson skipped a planned joint press conference with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, held outside the latter’s office, in order to avoid anti-Brexit protesters. Bettel went on with the event solo, at one point gesturing at the empty podium in front of a Union Jack flag, saying, “Now it’s on Mr. Johnson—he holds the future of all U.K. citizens and every EU citizen living in the U.K. in his hands.” Back in the U.K., leading Tories attacked Bettel for trying to humiliate Britain. Bettel later denied he was trying to embarrass Johnson, saying the event couldn’t be moved indoors because there wasn’t enough room for all the journalists and that he wanted to avoid a photo of Johnson’s podium being wheeled away. (This was a better photo?)

The bad press didn’t end there. On Wednesday, while touring a London hospital, Johnson was confronted by an angry father—also a Labour Party activist—who said he waited for hours in an understaffed ward to receive treatment for his 7-day-old daughter and accused the government of having “destroyed” the National Health Service. “My daughter nearly died yesterday,” Omar Salem told Johnson, adding, ”Would you like that for your own children?”

It’s not the only difficult encounter Johnson has had with an angry member of the public in recent weeks, but it would be a mistake to assume that he’s broadly unpopular. The Conservative Party maintains a healthy lead in opinion polls.

This week in actual negotiations: Johnson and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay both put a positive spin on ongoing talks with the EU this week. Barclay said they were “moving forward with momentum” and that the two sides share a “common purpose.” The European side was a little more cautious, with Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying that “lots of work has to be done in the next few days.” Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said, “We are still waiting for serious proposals from the British government” on how to resolve the contentious Irish border issue, and that the two sides are still very far apart despite the improved “mood music.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whom Johnson met with on Tuesday, has said that it is possible to reach an agreement by the current deadline of Oct. 31. Under recently passed British legislation, Johnson has until Oct. 19 to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement or he will be legally obligated to ask for another deadline extension—something he says he will not do.

Johnson and key EU leaders will get another chance to talk at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.

This week in court: The U.K.’s Supreme Court heard arguments over whether Johnson had misled the queen in asking for a suspension of Parliament this month. A Scottish court ruled last week that the suspension was unlawful and plainly intended to stymie Parliament’s attempts to prevent a no-deal Brexit. This contradicted an earlier ruling from England’s high court. A ruling against Johnson could force him to recall Parliament, although that is not considered likely. The has been pretty dramatic, with former Conservative Prime Minister John Major arguing against the current Conservative prime minister in court.

This week in Labour: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn rejected a call from his top deputy, Tom Watson, for the party to become unequivocally pro-Remain. Corbyn maintained that the party’s position would be to run in the next general election promising a new referendum with both leave and remain options, and that it would represent people on both sides of the Brexit divide.
This distinguishes the party from the surging Liberal Democrats who have gone all-in on stopping Brexit.

Days until next deadline: 42