You may recall that, in the 19th century, poor old China got beaten up from time to time by Western powers in opium wars and so on. The Western powers then forced treaties on the defeated China - the 'unequal treaties' - that were widely resented and are remembered with indignation to this day.
What made these treaties so disliked? Wikipedia has a helpful little article. Notable elements were (a) the payment of reparations and (b) extraterritoriality, i.e. allowing foreigners in China to live and be tried by their own laws rather than local Chinese ones. There were also rules about tariffs and so on that granted trade advantages to the victorious Westerners.
Why do I raise this? Well, the clue is in my title. What are the most high-profile parts of the Brexit negotiations? (a) Reparations - sorry, I mean, the exit bill - and (b) the rules on EU nationals in the UK (and vice versa) after Brexit. (Let's leave aside trade advantages for the moment.)
This exit bill!, you may say. Why, it's nothing like when China lost wars and had to pay money to Britain, or when Germany lost WWI and had to pay money under the Treaty of Versailles! No, of course not. It's a bit like .... Um, a bit like what? A bit like the money the UK charged its colonies for their independence? No, in fact upon independence, "Britain [...] agreed to give £50m (about £850m, or $1.1bn, in today’s money) in aid to Singapore over five years.[...] Malaysia [...] got £25m in similar circumstances. Malta [...] got £51m over ten years."
What about extraterritoriality? That's where the EU nationals debate come in. If you read about the EU's reaction to May's offer on citizens (see here, for example), you will see a fair and decent offer from the UK, met with the comment that Jean-Claude Juncker says it is "inconceivable" to him that the ECJ could be locked out of any judicial role in the future treatment of EU citizens in the UK. Just think about that for a moment. Juncker thinks it is "inconceivable" that a foreign court should not be in charge of deciding who can live in a foreign country. As if the British court could decide the laws applicable to its citizens in China.
OK, OK. The Brexit negotiations are not the same as the Treaty of Nanking. Of course not. But there is a serious point here. From the British point of view, I think the model for the Brexit negotiations is independence negotiations. The various options range from the independence of a colony to the independence of Ireland or potentially Scotland. At the back of a lot of British minds, I would suspect, is the idea that the UK and the EU should end up like Ireland and the UK: on close and friendly terms, perhaps cheering on each other's football teams if our own fails to qualify for the World Cup. A certain generosity of spirit from the larger entity is called for, the idea of charging the smaller one a fee for its independence seems odd, and extraterritoriality is simply bizarre.
Clearly the EU has a different model in mind. Perhaps different experiences of decolonisation or domestic separatist movements explains this. But in its desire to punish the UK for Brexit (see this blog passim), the EU is in danger of creating resentment where friendship could be found.
China had been around for a lot longer than the UK, and it has outlived the unequal treaties. The UK has been around for a lot longer than the EU, it has a higher fertility rate and it has a way with historical memory (there's a coin in my pocket right now commemorating what happened in 1066). I'd be a little more ready to conceive the inconceivable if I were a Luxembourger.