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Cabinet minister Buckland dismisses Luxembourg PM’s Brexit ‘stunt’

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel launched into Boris Johnson after he pulled out of a joint press conference because of anti-Brexit protesters.

Luxembourg’s PM Xavier Bettel addresses a media conference after a meeting with Boris Johnson in Luxembourg (Olivier Matthys/AP/PA)
Luxembourg’s PM Xavier Bettel addresses a media conference after a meeting with Boris Johnson in Luxembourg (Olivier Matthys/AP/PA)

By David Hughes, Political Editor, and Richard Wheeler, Parliamentary Editor, PA

A member of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet has dismissed Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s attack over Brexit as a “stunt”.

A podium set up for the UK’s Prime Minister was left empty as Mr Bettel delivered an onslaught against Mr Johnson’s handling of Brexit following their meeting in Luxembourg.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the situation had been an “unfortunate media stunt” and defended the Government’s handling of talks with the European Union.

There has been frustration in the EU about the Government’s refusal to publish written proposals for how to end the impasse over the backstop – a contingency measure which keeps the UK closely tied to Brussels’ rules to avoid a hard border with Ireland.

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Justice Secretary Robert Buckland would not rule out a second bid to suspend Parliament (David Mirzoeff/PA)

But Mr Buckland said the UK had to avoid putting forward proposals which become “unrealistic or a hostage to fortune”.

As judges at the Supreme Court were set to consider whether Mr Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks is lawful, the Justice Secretary also refused to rule out a second temporary shutdown.

Asked whether it was remotely conceivable that Mr Johnson could suspend Parliament again, Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics, it seems like an hour is a long time in politics at the moment, and for me to sit here and imagine what might happen at the end of October, I think is idle.

“What I do know is if we are able to, we will have a Queen’s Speech in October, there will be debate during that time and a vote as well, perhaps a series of votes, and I think Parliament has already shown its power.”

Campaigners against a no-deal Brexit are suspicious of the Government after Mr Johnson repeatedly stated the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal despite a law requiring the Prime Minister to seek a delay rather than crash out without an agreement.

The Justice Secretary insisted that progress was being made in efforts to reach a deal following Mr Johnson’s meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg on Monday.

That meeting, at a restaurant, came before the chaotic scenes outside Luxembourg’s Ministry of State where Mr Johnson decided a noisy anti-Brexit demonstration made it impossible to go ahead with the joint press conference with Mr Bettel.

To cheers from the crowd, Mr Bettel then delivered an emotional tirade, complaining the future of citizens across the EU was being held hostage for “party political gains”.

Mr Buckland said the talks with the EU had to be handled carefully.

“We mustn’t make the same mistakes, frankly, which were made before with negotiation.

“We have to deal with this very carefully, we mustn’t put up something which becomes unrealistic or a hostage to fortune.

“Let’s be careful and considered in these negotiations – that’s what the UK Government is doing and yesterday the signs from (European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker) were real progress.

“That I think, rather than the unfortunate media stunt … is the real takeaway from yesterday.”

Mr Buckland was not the only Tory to turn on Mr Bettel over his behaviour.

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(PA Graphics)

Pro-Brexit Tory Daniel Kawczynski said the scenes only underlined the need for Britain to get out of the “artificial arrogant EU structure” as quickly as possible.

“Luxembourg PM representing a nation smaller than Birmingham admonishing and being disrespectful to a British PM for trying to fulfil will of British people. We need to pull out of EU on October 31 without doubt!” he tweeted.

Former Brexit minister David Jones said Mr Bettel had made a “big mistake” which would appal many of his own people.

Even some pro-EU MPs supported Mr Johnson’s decision to walk out.

Sir Nicholas Soames, one of 21 MPs to have the Conservative whip removed by Mr Johnson for rebelling over Brexit, accused Mr Bettel of “unhelpful grandstanding”.

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Boris Johnson and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at their working lunch at Le Bouquet Garni restaurant (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti raised concerns over how the Government will treat the legislation – known as the Benn Act – designed to stop it forcing through a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

She told Today: “Ministers in this Johnson government bizarre dystopian universe have now indicated that they might not even abide by the terms of that legislation.

“We’ve seen briefing from Number 10 that they might prorogue Parliament a second time to avoid the enforcement of the Benn legislation or the scrutiny of the House of Commons, and that they’re thinking of other ways to avoid that legislation.

“This is how serious things have got in this country under a far-right, outright government.”

PA

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