Nobody should be fooled by the game being played by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the Brexit negotiations.
For the past four months, he has briefed, leaked, grandstanded and stonewalled in his efforts to maximise the pressure on Brexit Minister David Davis to capitulate to EU demands.
Having got his way on the procedural phases and their contents, Barnier has done his utmost to portray the British side as opaque, unreasonable and inflexible.
On all three issues to be decided in the first phase of negotiations, he has demonstrated those very characteristics himself.
First, the former EU commissioner has, in effect, rejected all proposals put forward by the British government so far on the post-Brexit residency rights of EU citizens here and British citizens in Europe.
He demands more detail yet has proposed nothing substantial instead, while insisting that any future arrangements be policed by the EU Court of Justice (ECJ).
Of course, the Tories could still put Barnier on the spot by simply declaring full rights of residency and citizenship for EU citizens already here and for those arriving before Brexit in 2019.
No doubt pressure from the Tory right and the gutter tabloids has made this a hazardous option for the Prime Minister and her less xenophobic Cabinet colleagues, who themselves may also see EU residents in Britain as a “bargaining chip” to be used cynically in the negotiations.
The government should take this issue off the table by granting their rights in full and challenging the EU to reciprocate.
As far as a financial divorce settlement is concerned, the EU has at least published its own proposals, while insisting that no figures be advanced by either side until the methodology is agreed.
Those proposals would make even the greediest gold-digger in a divorce court blush with embarrassment.
The British government has refused to countenance such an astronomical sum – rightly, though its own negotiators have shown little eagerness to discuss specifics or alternatives.
Its refusal has prompted Barnier to threaten more than once to suspend talks altogether.
On the third issue, the Northern Ireland border, the right-wing EU civil servant has sweet-talked the Dublin Parliament about his alleged desire to avoid reestablishing a hard North-South border with customs and immigration posts.
Last weekend, an unnamed “senior EU official” told the media that the British government should not use the Irish peace process as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Yet it is the EU which insists that there must be customs controls between the EU and the United Kingdom — and thus between Northern Ireland the Irish Republic — unless the British government agrees to abide by all the economic rules and financial obligations of the European single market, including the jurisdiction of the ECJ or its puppet European Free Trade Association court.
The solution to the North-South border question is obvious, short of doing away with the wretched divide altogether.
Any EU customs and (except for Irish and British citizens) immigration regime should operate between Britain and the island of Ireland as a whole.
Undoubtedly, the British and Northern Irish governments could negotiate satisfactory arrangements with the Irish Republic — except that the Dublin government has ceded sovereignty in such matters to the EU.
In Britain, we can unelect our negotiators. The Irish people have no such option.