Luxembourg (CNN)British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to abandon a press conference with his counterpart in Luxembourg to avoid anti-Brexit protesters, in an extraordinary diplomatic dust-up between the two nations.
Johnson skips press conference to avoid anti-Brexit protests
Johnson had been due to make an outdoor statement alongside the Luxembourg leader Xavier Bettel, but British officials asked for it to be moved inside to avoid being drowned out, a UK government source said. Bettel went ahead with the press conference anyway, and officials did not remove Johnson's podium.
Bettel used the event to excoriate Johnson. He said the Brexit process had turned into a "nightmare" and that the UK had failed to present alternative proposals to the deal it had negotiated, but now rejects. "He holds the future of all UK citizens," said an impassioned Bettel, gesturing at the empty podium by his side. "It's his responsibility. Your people, our people count on you."
As Bettel spoke, a small but noisy crowd, many of whom were British nationals living in Luxembourg, clapped and cheered.
Johnson was in Luxembourg for his first face-to-face Brexit talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. It was bumpy from the start -- the British Prime Minister was booed as he arrived at the restaurant where the talks were being held.
Meanwhile, crowds were already gathering outside Luxembourg's government buildings, where the meeting with Bettel was scheduled. The British government source said officials requested an indoor location for the post-meeting media briefing in order to avoid the chants of protesters.
The decision to go ahead with the press conference against the wishes of British officials was a pointed move on the part of Bettel. Typically, host nations go to great lengths to avoid humiliating allies in this way.
In his remarks, Bettel delivered a thinly veiled rebuke to comments by Johnson on Sunday, who described breaking free of the EU's "manacles" in the manner of Marvel superhero the Hulk. Bettel said Brexit was "too serious a matter to speak about actors and a script."
Brexit was not the choice of the EU but that of the UK's Conservative government, Bettel said. "You can't hold our future hostage for party political gains," he said, adding: "I repeat this Brexit is not my choice."
Speaking to UK media away from the protestors, Johnson gave his reasons for canceling the press conference. "I don't think it would've been fair to the prime minister of Luxembourg," he said. "I think there were clearly going to be a lot of noise and I think our points might've been drowned out."
Johnson admitted Brexit negotiations would have to be accelerated, and that the EU must make "movement" over the Irish backstop but added that there was "just the right amount of time" to do a deal.