EU panic: Von der Leyen prepares to push Barnier aside in last-ditch bid to strike deal

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The President of the European Commission is due to give a “State of the Union” speech on September 16. Sources in the Commission have refused to divulge any aspects of the speech but one EU diplomat said they expected Ms von der Leyen to “set the scene to sideline Barnier and Frost to find a high-level political solution”.

Reports suggest the Commission president would attempt to take over the trade talks following her speech in a bid to find a breakthrough.

She would be joined in her efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the six-month long rotating presidency of the EU.

And Charles Michel, president of the European Council, is also expected to be by Ms von der Leyen’s side when she takes over the talks for the bloc.

It comes after the revealed on Friday Mr Barnier’s plea for leaders of the EU’s 27 member states to intervene in the talks was slapped down.

Capitals insisted it was too early for any intervention, despite the clear lack of progress just months away from the deadline of the post-Brexit transition period.

Mr Barnier and Mr Frost will meet in London on Tuesday for the next round of trade talks.

EU diplomats said if the two teams failed to reach some sort of an agreement next week it would be “fatal” to the chances of sealing a deal.

Both sides have said any agreement would have to be in place by October to allow enough time for it to be approved before the end of the year.

One diplomat said: “We always hope for progress but aren’t holding our breath.

“The next round would be good but absence of progress there won’t be fatal.

“This will be different if the second September round also fails.”

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Another second diplomat said time is fast running out for the UK and the EU to find common ground.

They said: “The window to clinch a deal will close quickly.

“Time would simply be running out.”

Following a meeting between Mr Barnier and Mr Frost this week, fears of a no-deal Brexit shot up.

Mr Barnier bemoaned the UK’s unwillingness to budge on key issues.

Ahead of talks next week, Mr Frost said there was likely to be little progress due to the EU’s refusal to be flexible.

He said: “We will negotiate constructively but the EU’s stance may, realistically, limit the progress we can make next week.

“From the very beginning we have been clear about what we can accept in these areas, which are fundamental to our status as an independent country.”

Failure to reach a trade deal could wreak havoc on financial markets as nearly a trillion dollars in trade, from car parts and medicines to lamb and fish, would be thrown into turmoil.

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