During a crunch video conference with Boris Johnson, the European Commission President said she would fight into the dying minutes to conclude an agreement. Both sides agreed to accelerate the negotiations over the coming months to ensure a deal is in place when the transition period expires on December 31. The Prime Minister has urged the bloc to work towards the basis of a deal next month.
But he didn’t issue an official ultimatum when he held hour-long talks yesterday with Mrs von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and Parliament President David Sassoli.
European sources were surprised by Mr Johnson’s drive to reach an agreement with the bloc.
They compared the current talks to the last-minute wrangling over the Northern Irish border last year.
At the end of the divorce talks, the two sides agreed on a plan to replace the controversial backstop with a more permanent solution.
One EU source said: “We’ll get to December 31 exhausted, with our shirts ruined, having lost ten years of life expectancy, but we will have tried everything.”
Brussels believes an intervention during the negotiations over the UK’s EU Withdrawal Agreement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel still applies in the trade talks.
In a bid to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the veteran German leader sought to broker a peace deal between UK and EU negotiators as chances of an agreement seemed impossible.
She is said to have claimed the “deadline was one minute before midnight on the last day of the friendship”.
Mrs Merkel will takeover the EU’s rotating six-month presidency next month, and has made securing a Brexit deal one of her main priorities.
The European Union could switch tactics to negotiate a barebones agreement before the deadline.
The agreement, covering only the most essential areas where there is little room to use existing international arrangements as a fallback, would allow fresh talks to start again next year.
The commission president wants the EU’s negotiating team to “take a step back” and review its demands for continued access to Britain’s fishing waters and the so-called “level playing field”, the source added.
Mrs von der Leyen is understood to believe the EU should soften its approach in order to broker a compromise.
She is even ready to accept the UK’s demand for full sovereignty over its coastal waters, it has been claimed.