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EU Council President Donald Tusk. Photo: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that there have been "promising signals" in Brexit talks between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, adding that both have seen "for the first time ... a pathway to a deal."

The big picture: The major sticking point in the negotiations continues to be the Irish backstop, deciding precisely which regulatory and customs system Northern Ireland, which is a part of the U.K., will be aligned with after Brexit — and for how long — and how that will affect its border with Ireland.

  • Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, also said Friday that he had a "constructive meeting" with the U.K.'s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, continuing the positive language from Europe, per AP.

Yes, but: The U.K. is set to exit the EU on Oct. 31, so any hope for a deal is getting close to the wire. Johnson has promised to exit the EU "do or die" at the end of the month, indicating that he'd be willing to stomach the expected economic shock of a no-deal Brexit.

  • Tusk acknowledged the time crunch in his remarks, saying, "Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up — but even the slightest chance must be used. A no-deal Brexit will never be the choice of the EU."

The bottom line: There have been positive signals from both sides before as the U.K. approached its previously planned exit dates under former Prime Minister Theresa May. She was able to produce a fully negotiated withdrawal agreement that took months to hammer out — and it was soundly rejected on multiple occasions by Parliament.

  • "So, in summary, there's a narrow pathway to a landing zone, which could give access to a tunnel, which would pass under a summit, but perhaps reach sunlit uplands rather than the last ditch before the cliff edge," astutely tweets the AFP's Dave Clark.

Go deeper: Northern Ireland's Brexit balancing act

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”