EU steps up demands for Boris Johnson to come up with Brexit proposals
By Sam Blewett, Political Correspondent in Luxembourg, and David Hughes, Political Editor, PA
The European Union's frustration with Boris Johnson about his Brexit strategy was laid bare after the Prime Minister met the bloc's top official Jean-Claude Juncker.
Mr Johnson and the European Commission president sat down for their first face-to-face talks in a restaurant in Mr Juncker's native Luxembourg.
Following their talks, the commission said Mr Johnson had still not made legally operational proposals to replace the backstop - the controversial contingency measure which keeps the UK closely tied to EU rules to prevent the return of a hard border with Ireland.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel went further, warning that EU citizens were facing mounting uncertainty due to Brexit while standing next to an empty podium after Mr Johnson pulled out of a joint appearance.
"You can't hold their future hostage for party political gains," Mr Bettel said.
Gesturing to the empty space where Mr Johnson should have been, Mr Bettel said: "Now it's on Mr Johnson - he holds the future of all UK citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands.
"It's his responsibility. Your people, our people, count on you - but the clock is ticking, use your time wisely."
The joint statement outside Luxembourg's Ministry of State was cancelled amid the noise of pro-EU demonstrators.
Mr Johnson decided to only give a statement to a small group of journalists assembled at the nearby residence of the British ambassador, insisting "we've got a good chance of a deal".
But he said it would require movement from the EU side and the Prime Minister again insisted that the UK would leave - with or without an agreement - on October 31.
"Over the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of work, papers have been shared but we are now in the stage where we have to start really accelerating the work. That was the agreement today," he said.
"We've got to manage this carefully. Yes, we've got a good chance of a deal. Yes, I can see the shape of it. Everybody could see roughly what could be done.
"But it will require movement. And it will require the system in which the EU can control the UK after we leave - the so-called backstop - to go from that treaty."
The Prime Minister said the press conference with Mr Bettel was cancelled over fears they would have been "drowned out" by pro-EU protesters.
"I don't think it would've been fair to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg," he said.
A European Commission statement released following Mr Johnson's working lunch with Mr Juncker at Le Bouquet Garni restaurant said "it is the UK's responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement" but "such proposals have not yet been made".
Downing Street said the meeting was "constructive" and contact between the two sides would be stepped up.
"The leaders agreed that the discussions needed to intensify and that meetings would soon take place on a daily basis," a spokeswoman said.
Talks will also take place between the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, while Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker would remain in touch.
Mr Johnson denied that the UK's attempts at negotiations were a sham and said there is still "hard work to be done" in securing a fresh deal.
"I don't know who you've been talking to but that's not what our interlocutors at EU heads of government level think at all. They know that we're all working very hard to get a deal," he said.
"This is a difficult moment because clearly we're very, very keen to do it but I don't want people to think it's necessarily in the bag."
Mr Johnson's Government is reluctant to produce fixed, written proposals, with Whitehall sources saying they fear the EU side will just "trash it" in public unless the timing is right and Brussels has shown it is open to the possibility of making changes.
The Prime Minister repeated his assertion that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal despite the law passed by Parliament calling for an extension to the Brexit process if an agreement has not been reached by October 19.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested the Government was still examining the implications of the "deeply, deeply flawed" legislation - fuelling speculation Mr Johnson may try to find a loophole.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister could both ensure the UK left the European Union come what may on October 31 and comply with the law.
Asked how those two things could be compatible, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I've avoided getting into any of that beyond saying that governments comply by the law but we will be leaving on October 31."
Over the weekend, Mr Johnson likened Britain leaving the EU to the Incredible Hulk breaking free from manacles.
But former justice secretary David Gauke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Maybe the Incredible Hulk doesn't have to comply with the law, but the British Government does."