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

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
18 mins ago - Economy & Business

Wall Street is living up to its bad reputation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Recent headlines will have you convinced that Wall Street is hell-bent on living up to all of its stereotypes.

Driving the news: Goldman Sachs, of course, is the biggest and the boldest, paying more than $5 billion in fines in the wake of the 1MDB scandal, in which billions were stolen from the people of Malaysia.

43 mins ago - Health

Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said "the short answer is yes" when asked whether Vice President Mike Pence is putting others at risk by continuing to campaign after several aides tested positive for COVID-19, stressing that the White House needs to be "very explicit about the risks that they're taking."

Why it matters: The New York Times reports that at least five members of Pence's inner circle, including his chief of staff Marc Short and outside adviser Marty Obst, have tested positive for the virus. Pence tested negative on Sunday morning, according to the VP's office, and he'll continue to travel for the final stretch of the 2020 campaign.

Pence to continue traveling despite aides testing positive for COVID-19

Marc Short with Pence in March. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force. Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the virus on Sunday morning, according to the vice president's office.