Spanish PM says no to Catalan referendum

Catalan separatists at Catalunya Square in Barcelona. Picture: AFP

Catalan separatists at Catalunya Square in Barcelona. Picture: AFP

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THE SPANISH prime minister has said no to Catalan demands for an official referendum, after some two million people voted in a symbolic “consultation” last ­Sunday.

Mariano Rajoy said: “There was no referendum. Two out of three Catalans refused to take part in a simulacrum of democracy. It was not a democratic vote, it was political ­propaganda.”

Following Sunday’s vote, in which close to 80 per cent of the 40 per cent turnout opted for independence, Catalan president Artur Mas called on Mr Rajoy to allow people to vote in a binding referendum held with the central government’s ­blessing.

However, Mr Rajoy described the consultation as a failure and a setback for the independence movement.

He said: “What we have seen is a huge failure of the independence process. According to their own figures, the majority of Catalans have refused to follow Mr Mas. Two out of three Catalans have not taken part.

“There are many more Catalans in Catalonia than there are separatists.

“Catalonia is plural and the decisions taken there have to be for everyone. We are now going to dedicate ourselves to what is in everyone’s interest – the third and the two-thirds – which is to improve the ­economy.”

Mr Rajoy added that Mr Mas was “trying to divide the Catalan people”.

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He said that, while he wanted dialogue, Mr Mas did not, as there was no possibility of dialogue if one party put impossible demands on the table. If Mr Mas wanted to change Catalan’s constitutional status, then he had a right to set in motion constitutional reforms, he said, while insisting he would not support such a reform.

Mr Rajoy said the Constitutional Court had ruled that a Catalan referendum was illegal.

“I have met my obligation. I have been sensitive.

“Let me tell you, others would have liked me to take more drastic decisions,” he said, referring to those in his party who had called on him to suspend Catalonia’s statute of autonomy or even to forcibly prevent the consultation from going ahead.

The prime minister’s only positive note for the separatists was when he said he was not unaware of Catalonia’s financial difficulties, a hint that he might be willing to offer the region more fiscal autonomy, which has always been Mr Mas’ central demand.

Mr Mas’ response to the Spanish premier was to tell the Catalan parliament the government wanted to create an atmosphere of fear but that “every day we are less afraid and they should be aware of that”.

With the exception of Mr ­Rajoy’s own Partido Popular (PP), there was dismay across the spectrum at the PM’s lack of political initiative.

Pedro Sanchez, the Socialist party leader, said Mr Rajoy was “resigned, exhausted and out of ideas”. He said that what was needed was constitutional reform in order to “regenerate democracy”.

Joan Herrera, leader of the Catalan Greens, described the statement as the “expression of a useless government”. He added: “It is impossible to negotiate with the PP. It’s the enemy of democracy in Catalonia and Spain.”

Despite international pressure to negotiate a way out of the impasse, Mr Rajoy has remained firm. Now that the referendum, however symbolic and inconclusive, has been held, the question is, what next?

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