Spain’s government says it will suspend Catalan autonomy after independence deadline passes

Emergency cabinet meeting in Madrid on Saturday is expected to begin process of resuming direct rule over Catalonia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 8:32pm

The Spanish government is to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s president refused to abandon the push for independence that has led to Spain’s biggest political crisis for 40 years.

The announcement of the unprecedented measure came after Carles Puigdemont threatened a unilateral declaration of independence if the Spanish government did not agree to talks on the issue.

In a letter sent on Thursday morning to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont said talks were the only way to avert the crisis, as the deadline set by Madrid for the region to abandon its independence plans passed.

The Catalan president also accused Spanish authorities of trying to repress the independence movement after two of its leaders were denied bail by a national court judge earlier this week, and he said using article 155 of the constitution to impose direct rule from Madrid would force his hand.

“The suspension [of the independence declaration] is still in place. The [Spanish] state is entitled to decide to apply article 155 if it secures the senate’s approval,” he wrote.

“But despite all our efforts and our desire for dialogue, the fact that the only reply we have been given is that autonomy will be suspended suggests that you do not understand the problem and do not wish to talk.

“If the [Spanish] government persists in hindering dialogue and continues with its repression, the Catalan parliament could, if it deems appropriate, proceed to vote on the formal declaration of independence.”

In a statement on Thursday morning, the Spanish government said Puigdemont had again not confirmed whether independence had been declared, adding: “At an emergency meeting on Saturday, the cabinet will approve measures to be put before the senate to protect the general interest of Spaniards, including the citizens of Catalonia, and to restore constitutional order in the autonomous community.”

It also accused Catalan authorities of “deliberately and systematically seeking institutional confrontation, despite the serious damage it is causing to coexistence and Catalonia’s economy”.

Although Puigdemont claimed that the unilateral independence referendum held on October 1, in which 90 per cent of participants opted for independence, gave his government the mandate to forge a sovereign state, he has ignored Rajoy’s demand to clarify whether independence has been declared.

He has instead proposed that the effects of an independence declaration be suspended for two months while both sides open dialogue aimed at resolving the stand-off.

On Wednesday, the Spanish prime minister issued a last-minute call for Puigdemont to calm the situation and act in the interests of all Spaniards and Catalans.

Speaking in parliament, Rajoy asked Puigdemont’s colleagues to persuade him “not to make any more problems” that would “oblige the government to make decisions that would be better never to make”.

The Spanish government has said it would be willing to hold off on imposing article 155 if the Catalan government were to call a snap regional election without a confirmation of independence. However, the Catalan foreign minister, Raül Romeva, said such a move was not being considered, telling reporters in Brussels on Wednesday: “Elections from our perspective are not an option.”

Tensions in the already fraught impasse rose further earlier this week after a judge at Spain’s national court denied bail to two prominent Catalan independence leaders who are being investigated for alleged sedition.

Jordi Sanchez, the president of the Catalan national assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of the Catalan association Òmnium Cultural, are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers following a judge’s orders to halt the referendum.

Their detention prompted large protests across Catalonia on Tuesday. On the same day, Spain’s constitutional court announced that it had annulled the Catalan law paving the way for the referendum, saying the right to “promote and enact the unilateral secession” of a part of the country was not recognised in the Spanish constitution.

According to the Catalan government, about 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters (43 per cent) took part in the referendum. It says 770,000 votes were lost after Spanish police stepped in to try to halt the vote.