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

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