[T]he press conference that Xavier Bettel ended up giving alone – gesturing to the lectern where his counterpart should have stood – served as a striking symbol of EU leaders’ mounting frustration with the Brexit process.
The Luxembourg prime minister did not hold back. The leave campaign had been built on lies, he said. Johnson’s oft-repeated claims of progress in the talks were baseless. London had come up with nothing to replace the backstop.
Above all, the UK – not the EU – was to blame for the impasse. “I just want to repeat and remind that Theresa May accepted the withdrawal agreement,” he said. Britain’s “homemade” problems were causing “general problems” for the whole of the EU.
This was barely concealed anger – not just at the uncertainty and stress being endured by citizens, companies and countries who, after three years, “want and deserve clarity”, but at the disingenuous game being played by the British government.
Johnson has talked, repeatedly, of “real signs of movement” in Berlin, Paris and Dublin on getting rid of the backstop, the perennial obstacle to a Brexit agreement. “A huge amount of progress is being made” in the negotiations, he insists.
For EU officials, the regular meetings with Johnson’s special envoy do not even qualify as “negotiations”. There are grave doubts, after his suspension of parliament and failure to advance any concrete proposals, that the prime minister wants a deal at all – and, should one be achieved, that he could get it through parliament.
Ideas for an all-Ireland regulatory regime for food and agriculture, which No 10 thinks would go a long way to replacing the backstop, fall far short of the requirement to protect EU markets from dangerous goods, fraud or unfair competition.
And as Bettel’s exasperation made clear, officials in Brussels, and leaders in national capitals, are running out of patience. Hopes that Britain might eventually give Brexit up as a bad job and remain in the EU are giving way to prayers that it won’t. [Continue reading…]