Spain’s ruling Socialists will “never” allow an independence referendum in Catalonia, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday, as his government prepares to resume negotiations with Catalan separatists.
His comments come a week after nine Catalan political leaders were pardoned and freed from jail for their part in the northeastern region’s failed push for independence in 2017.
“There will be no referendum on self-determination,” Sanchez told parliament, saying his Socialist party would “never accept this type of deviation.”
He stressed that the only way to hold such a vote would be for supporters to convince three-fifths of the lower house to modify the Spanish constitution, and for Spain as a whole to ratify this change via a referendum.
This would currently be impossible as the three biggest political groupings in the lower house – the socialists, conservative Popular Party and far-right Vox – are opposed to such a reform.
Sanchez’s comments come just a day after his first official meeting with Catalonia’s new regional president Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist.
Aragones said that negotiations between Madrid and the Catalan separatists, who want to hold an independence referendum, would resume in September.
“There has to be a referendum, otherwise the conflict will continue,” the Catalan leader told foreign reporters in Madrid Wednesday, complaining that the national government had “so far made no proposals.”
While Aragones welcomed Sanchez’s plans to give the regional government more powers and encourage infrastructure investments, he added that “that won’t be enough to resolve the basic political conflict.”
Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain in 2017 provoked one of the worst political crises there since the end of Francisco Franco’s military dictatorship in 1975.
Leaders of the wealthy Spanish region, which has a population of 7.8 million people, defied a government ban to organize an independence referendum.
In response, Madrid’s conservative government sent in the police to stop the referendum, and when the region’s leaders declared independence a few weeks later, they sacked them and suspended Catalonia’s autonomy.
Nine Catalan leaders were jailed for between nine and 13 years.
Sanchez’s recent decision to free the jailed Catalan leaders has been fiercely criticized by the conservative opposition.