The last day of October is a big day for Brussels. It is supposed to be Britain’s last day as a member of the European Union – but that could change.
More certain, though, is the end of another pillar of the European political machine.
31 October will mark the end of Jean-Claude Juncker’s reign as president of the European Commission. He’s been in the top job for five years, having previously spent 19 years as prime minister of Luxembourg.
Juncker, by any standards, has long sat at the top table of European politics.
He is known as a deal-maker, a master of the complex politics that binds Brussels together. And perhaps he spies one last deal. One that could change the future of his continent, and the United Kingdom.
Because, in a city where plenty think that a no-deal Brexit is becoming ever more likely, the president is emerging as the man who thinks a deal is feasible.
He told Sky News that “we can have a deal” and then went on to admit that, yes, if the right alternative arrangements were in place, then he would support writing off the backstop.
It all sounds very positive and, coming just after his carefully worded announcement in the European Parliament that he has “no emotional attachment” to the backstop, it’s clear that Juncker is playing a political trick.
He’s heard the British government talk about the need for a Brexit landing zone – and now he’s trying to make space for it.
Because Brexit negotiations are granular, and painfully slow. They move with the speed, and weight, of tectonic plates.
Nothing ever comes easily, yet here is Juncker suggesting that the sacred cow of the backstop might be chucked out. A notion, by the way, that was greeted warmly by British officials.
So is a deal suddenly within sight, thanks to Juncker’s backing?
The simple answer, I’m afraid, is no.
For a start, Juncker’s emollient comments come with a caveat – that the backstop can go, but only if replaced by alternative arrangements that meet all of its objectives.
So you can take the Lego car apart, but when you put the pieces back together it still has to be pretty much the same car you started with.
And, by the way, those alternative arrangements are a source of fierce debate.
You’ll struggle to find anyone who can actually define what they are, and how they’ll work, but pretty much anyone you speak to agrees on one thing – they won’t be ready for the end of October, and nor are they likely to be in place by the end of 2020, when the UK’s transition period is due to finish.
The British government might shrug its shoulders at that, and ask for the EU to show some blind faith.
But others, notably the Irish government, will be more wary.
Leo Varadkar is very unlikely to agree to a Brexit deal based on the idea of border arrangements that are unproven and might never come to pass.
So there is uncertainty.
Nathalie Loiseau, France’s former Europe minister, told me there was a lack of trust in Boris Johnson, and a desperate desire for clarity over Britain’s intentions.
But what is clearly true is that the noise and pace of Brexit negotiations has stepped up. Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, will be in Brussels on Friday for talks with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.
Britain’s broad-brush proposals are being discussed in Brexit committees. Where once talks seemed moribund, now they are at least moving.
“I am doing everything to have a deal because I don’t like the idea of a no-deal. I think this would have catastrophic consequences,” said Juncker.
As the Brexit deadline approaches, so does the end of his tenure as president.
Juncker is a proud, dynamic man who does not want a no-deal Brexit to be his legacy. But while he is powerful, he is no autocract.
The fact he wants to avoid no-deal does not, on its own, mean it won’t happen.
Europe correspondent @AdamParsons1 The last day of October is a big day for Brussels. It is supposed to be Britain’s last day as a member of the European Union – but that could change. More certain, though, is the end of another pillar of the European political machine.