Johnson summons ‘Incredible Hulk’ ahead of Brexit talks with EU's Juncker
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Six weeks after he took office and six weeks before he is due to lead Britain out of the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold his first talks with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker on Monday.
A day after comparing his country to berserk comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch with the head of the EU’s executive branch in Luxembourg.
Downing Street has confidently billed the visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any "legally operable" proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, who will join the leaders for their talks in Juncker's native Grand Duchy, has said he has "no reason to be optimistic".
And the European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson's demand that the so-called "Irish backstop" clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But any new accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31.
The embattled UK leader has boasted that he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time into next year.
"Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal – the right deal for both sides – then the UK will come out anyway," Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch, which will be held behind closed doors with no plan for a joint statement afterwards.
‘The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets’
Nevertheless, Johnson told the Mail on Sunday he remains "very confident" of getting a new deal before the October 17 summit.
"A huge amount of progress is being made," he said, referring to "technical talks" on border procedures between his Brexit adviser David Frost and Barnier's team.
Johnson likened Brexit Britain to comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist whose catchphrase is "Hulk smash!"
"The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be," Johnson told the paper.
The comparison was widely mocked on social media, including by Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, who has played the Marvel character for years.
“The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team,” Ruffalo noted in a tweet, adding that his rage is counter-balanced by the “science and reason” of his alter-ego, the mild-mannered Dr Bruce Banner.
Boris Johnson forgets that the Hulk only fights for the good of the whole. Mad and strong can also be dense and destructive. The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team, and is a disaster when he is alone. Plus...he’s always got Dr. Banner with science and reason. pic.twitter.com/jN8BDzgpWlMark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) September 15, 2019
Johnson's Hardline Brexit strategy faces opposition at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek another delay to Britain’s EU divorce.
Britain's Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson's decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
"what were you NOT meant to do?"General Boles (@GeneralBoles) September 14, 2019
"and what did you do"
"SMASHED CONSTITUTION" pic.twitter.com/kdK0CZ72lV
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance.
Barnier previously briefed the leaders of political groups in the assembly on Thursday last week, and he had a downbeat message.
"I can't objectively tell you whether the contacts we have undertaken with Mr. Johnson's government will lead to an agreement between now and mid-October," he said.
After that meeting, the speaker of the parliament David Sassoli unveiled the Brexit resolution, which would insist that the Irish backstop remain in the deal.
"The resolution says that if there is a no-deal departure, then that is entirely the responsibility of the United Kingdom," he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)