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News that the EU has set up a unit to prepare for the possibility that no deal will be reached with the UK before the end of the Brexit negotiations has done nothing to lift the mood of pessimism as 2017 nears its end and there still seems to have been little progress on the key sticking points. The EU’s assertion that this unit is deliberately separate from Michel Barnier’s team so that he can focus on a positive result hardly helps: if Mr Barnier is the poster boy for positivity then the talks really are in trouble. Paul Clarke reports.