Green is for "go"

Spain is throwing its toys out of the pram about Gibraltar again. This Monday, a deal between the EU and the UK concerning the terms of a 21-month transition period was almost agreed upon. But at the time of writing (Thursday morning) the deal has not been finalised because Spain wants assurance that its veto over Gibraltar - made explicit in negotiating guidelines published last April - still stands during the handover period. As I write, EU bosses are therefore busy trying to coax Mariano Rajoy into signing the proposed deal ahead of an EU summit this Friday.

Twenty-one months? It seems we're in for almost another two years of fumbling negotiations in which neither side quite knows what they want or what to do. Prepare yourself for yet more pictures of Theresa May and David Davis staring blankly at Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk across meeting tables laden with untouched croissants and orange juice.

In a way, it's surprising that Spain needs yet more assurance over Gibraltar. The document awaiting sign-off says that the EU's previous negotiating guidelines, in which Spain was given an explicit veto over the British territory, should be “fully respected” during the transition period. “Notably as regards Gibraltar”, it adds for good measure. In other words - no? - Spain still possesses its cherished veto.

But as one of the 27 remaining EU member states, Spain already has a say in the terms of any Brexit deal or any transition deal between the EU and the UK. Indeed, the delay in the final sign-off of the terms proposed on Monday is proof of that: if Spain doesn't give its approval, then there is no deal. And that automatically means, of course, that there is no deal concerning Gibraltar, either.

David Davis, the UK Brexit secretary, announced this week that he was sure Monday's proposed deal “does cover Gibraltar”. Naturally, Davis would assume this. As far as the UK is concerned, Gibraltar has been fully British since the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713. Theresa May's government has repeatedly made it clear (I'm paraphrasing) that Gibraltar is as British as Swindon, but with nicer weather. Spain, of course, disputes this, saying that the Treaty of Utrecht did not mention the isthmus - the strip of land that connects Gibraltar with Spain.

The latest hiccup can be resolved with the help of the “highlight” function in Word. Passages in the transition document come in three colours: green, signifying that they've been agreed upon by both the EU and the UK; yellow, meaning that only clarifications are needed; and white, denoting aspects that are awaiting agreement from either or both sides. Currently, the bit about Gibraltar is in white. Hopefully, by the time you read this, it'll be in green, signifying the end of an entirely unnecessary delay.