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Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to launch legal proceedings against the UK this week took EU leaders and Michel Barnier by surprise. Ms von der Leyen announced that the UK had been put on formal notice over its international law-breaking Internal Market Bill. Leaders of EU member-states as well as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier were understood to be furious at the European Commission President for potentially wrecking the Brexit talks at a key moment.
RTE’s Europe Editor Tony Connelly revealed the reaction: “There was some disquiet about the timing of this.
“I spoke to one official from a fairly large member-state who said member-states were not alerted that this legal action was coming on Thursday. They weren’t consulted.
“They were wondering if Michel Barnier was even in the loop on this. It seems to have been fairly tightly controlled between President von der Leyen and Maroš Šefčovič.
“It was kept under very tight wraps until 10am on Thursday morning.”
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He added: “The Irish Government were also unaware of it as well until late on Wednesday night.”
Delivering the legal action, the former German defence minister said the UK had a month to respond to the Commission’s concerns.
The timing of the announcement stunned officials in Brussels, as it took place just two weeks before October 15th deadline for a deal set by Boris Johnson.
This week marked the last round of formal negotiations between Mr Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost.
However, on Saturday, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen agreed to launch a fresh round of talks.
They agreed progress has been made in talks between the EU and UK but “significant gaps” remain.
Both have instructed their chief negotiators to “work intensively” in order to try to bridge those gaps.
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This means that Mr Barnier will travel to London this week for talks and the two sides will then hold follow-up talks in Brussels the week after.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen approved a further month of Brexit negotiations as part of a last push to reach a deal on trade and security.
EU sources suggest that the conversation was “not a game-changer” but not “unhelpful,” with both sides showing resolve to find “landing zones” on the most difficult areas.
Mr Barnier will visit German chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, after Ms Merkel suggested that the EU should show the UK more flexibility.
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