The UK ambassador to Luxembourg has acknowledged the “uncertainty” that remains over Brexit, saying London was seeking further “assurances” from the EU and reiterating that the current accord is still the best possible deal.
Photo: Mike Zenari
John Marshall also described disparaging remarks made by a Luxembourg MP about the British embassy’s activity in the grand duchy.
During his address to the business group, Marshall said of the EU-UK Brexit talks:
“We reached the end of this year with a huge amount that has been achieved, but clearly continuing uncertainty about the future. The deal that was agreed on the 25th of November between the UK and EU member state governments--the withdrawal agreement that sets out the terms of our exit [from the EU] and the political declaration that sets out the framework for our future relationship--was a major achievement, the culmination of nearly 18 months of negotiations.”
The major tension remained the “backstop” included in the deal, Marshall said.
John Marshall, the UK ambassador to the grand duchy, speaks during the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg’s Christmas luncheon, 14 December 2018. Photo credit: Mike Zenari
The backstop is an insurance policy of sorts that, if needed in the interim, would keep the border between Ireland and North Ireland open while the future relationship between the EU and UK was still being negotiated. It would do this by keeping the UK in the EU customs union and by requiring Northern Ireland to closely follow EU rules.
Marshall stated on 14 December:
“Both sides agree that it’s the best possible deal, but the now infamous backstop that neither side particularly likes and both sides would prefer to avoid, has become a particular sticking point in the British parliament, which must obviously ratify the agreement.
“So, as you’ve seen, the British prime minister Theresa May has been in Brussels to explain to member states that we need some additional assurances that would have legal force to clarify what we have already agreed. In other words, [that] this is an arrangement that we never want to come into force and if it does come into force, it must be temporary. And the plan is then to bring to the deal back to the UK parliament.
“The government continues to believe that there is a majority in the House of Commons that want to leave with a deal and that there is no alternative deal that could command a majority. In the meantime, necessary contingency planning continues for a no deal Brexit, an outcome both sides still hope to avoid.”
Later in his speech the ambassador said the embassy had been criticised by a Luxemburg MP, who he did not name. Marshall said there have been:
“two occasions recently when we have been accused of interfering in Luxembourg’s internal affairs, and acting in breach of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. This is not, I hasten to add, an accusation that came from the Luxembourg government, who, as far as I know, have no such concerns. But on the first occasion, a member of parliament, here in Luxembourg, took exception to us tweeting a message of solidarity in support of a pride march in Esch-sur-Alzette. And on the second occasion, the same individual criticised us for participating in a flash mob action to highlight the need to end violence against women.
“On both occasions we explained to this individual that it is normal behaviour for embassies, certainly western ones, to show our support for values we share or rights we consider universal. And these values and rights include our opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and include our support for the right of women to lead their lives and fulfil their potential without being subject to violence. And showing our support, through our active participation in events or through social media activity… doing that is part and parcel of normal diplomatic activity, and it’s an important part of what we do. And I’m pretty sure that the other 59 members of the Luxembourg parliament would agree.”
Charlotte Wallace, Aline Bidaine and Angela Taylor inside the Delano photo booth at the British Chamber of Commerce Christmas luncheon, 14 December 2018. Delano was a co-sponsor of the event. Photo credit: Mike Zenari
“At the end of the day as human beings we are hardwired for connection and community, and in a world of social media it’s very easy to think that is all about Facebook likes and Linkedin posts, but it’s not that…
“It’s all about coming together with the people who are important. Because that’s what community is. It goes beyond those Facebook likes, it goes beyond [that] into finding the people that you can just be yourself with, that you don’t have to be anyone else or put a front on, you can just walk up in your best case and in your worst case. If that’s in pearls and heels or… with bags under your eyes so deep because you’ve been working all hours... or you’ve been trying to get your 3-year-old to sleep at night.”
Joanna Denton, chair of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg, speaks during the organisation’s Christmas luncheon, 14 December 2018. Photo credit: Mike Zenari
Denton later stated that during the holidays:
“It’s time to come together as part of the community and think about who’s important to you….
“Who are the people that are there on the bad days…. On the days where you just want to run and rave, and curse and swear, they will be there, they will see you, they will hear you, and they will go and get you the chocolate or the cup of tea or the gin and tonic or whatever it is you need.
“And on the days where it’s truly awesome, when you are rocking it, when you are king or queen of your own world, they are there as well to celebrate. They’re there to dole out the high-5s and the woot-woots even if their own lives are falling apart. These are the people that are important.”
Delano’s Aaron Grunwald and photographer Mike Zenari inside the Delano photo booth at the British Chamber of Commerce Christmas luncheon, 14 December 2018. Delano was a co-sponsor of the event. Photo credit: Mike Zenari