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Boris Johnson's Hulk was slaughtered by Ant-Man



Never has the surface of the Luxembourg conference room raised such a diplomatic dispute.

British politicians and the media are calling for a "stitching" after the surrealism of an open-air press conference attended by Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bethel, standing next to an empty podium, where his British counterpart Boris Johnson was supposed to be. The apparent lack of office space for the Grand Duchy to host the world media meant that the event had to happen outside, but Johnson's apparent reluctance to try and speak out over the noise of Brexit protesters made it a breach. The result is the incredible Hulk (Johnson's memorable self-description), becoming the Invisible Man, which allows Bethel to steal the show.

Johnson Conservative politicians use this as more evidence that the EU is belittling the UK's democratic choice to leave the bloc ̵

1; and they have doubled their commitment to leave by October 31 to do or die. That the humiliation was delivered by tiny Luxembourg, the diplomatic equivalent of the Ant-Man superhero, only added to the rage.

The Duchy is one of the least populated countries in the EU and depends to a large extent on the flow of financial services from other countries for its prosperity. However, as a member of the EU Leadership Council, Bettel has a decisive vote on the fate of Britain. This gives him an pulpit from which to project power. Monday's performance was opportunistic, but legitimate: It is the national politicians, not the Brussels bureaucrats, who will make the final decisions about Brexit (and hence Johnson's own fate).

And European leaders are apparently discouraged with the British Prime Minister's craziness. With all the talk of Luxembourg replaying their hand, Bettel's talking points sounded like a synthesis of the positions of the 27 EU Member States, which began to take shape before the crucial EU Council meeting in October.

Asked if he would grant an extension of the official Brexit deadline, which is what the UK Parliament is forcing Johnson to ask, Bethel said he would not be ready to do so without good reason. This sounds like a difficult line recently laid down by France, Spain and the Netherlands. Finland, which holds the EU presidency, is similar. Telegraphing a single position among Member States is productive. This is not just a PR cascade for a small nation.

This strategy places Johnson's screws, emphasizing the lack of progress in the negotiations and making sure that he shares the blame for it.

The most significant development of Brexit in Luxembourg this day did not happen on the podium, but in the restaurant Le Bouquet Garni, where Bettel compatriot Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission, had lunch with Johnson and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator. Michelle Barnier. There was an agreement to intensify the talks to find an agreement, with meetings being held every day to find a solution that did not include a hard line to return to Ireland. Bettel Johnson's call to "act" with specific proposals also increases the pressure.

Brexit theaters alone will not take Europe anywhere productively. The no-deal scenario is not a preferred option on either side, at least officially, but Johnson has promised his Brexiter supporters that he will go from EU to Halloween "come what he can" and European leaders repeatedly strike their readiness for the most bad scenario, While these are negotiating positions as both parties try to secure the best possible Brexit deal for themselves, there is a chance that they will indeed lead to inaction.

Still, at least the empty podium podium keeps spotlights on Johnson's lack of productive proposals, while making it clear that EU countries will not succumb to UK efforts to separate them. Even the smallest countries get a chance to surpass the British.

Contact the author of this story: Lionel Laurent at llaurent2@bloomberg.net

Contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at jboxell @ bloomberg .net

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.


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