Yesterday, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine leaders of the illegal 2017 Catalan independence referendum to prison. The separatists, who were politicians, government officials and activists, were convicted of sedition and sentenced to between nine and 14 years. As a result of this, widespread pro-independence protests have occurred in the country. Hywel Williams MP asked Christopher Pincher MP, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) about the Government's response to these events.
Christopher Pincher MP, Minister of State, told MPs that although he understood MPs' concerns, it was a matter for Spain to decide. He also noted that although Catalan leaders should be able to debate matters in their parliament, under Spain's constitution it is not legally possible for Catalonia to hold a referendum to determine independence.
The Minister said:
"Her Majesty’s Government’s position on Catalonia is clear, and that is that it is a matter for Spain. The UK strongly supports the rule of law, and remains clear that political leaders, like anyone else, have a duty to abide by the law. Questions related to the issue of Catalan independence should be resolved within the proper constitutional and legal channels, and questions related to the legal penalties handed down by the courts of Spain are a matter for Spain and its democratic institutions."
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Hywel Williams MP disagreed that this was a matter only for Spain. He emphasised the length of the prison sentences, highlighting the imprisonment of the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, who was jailed for allowing a parliamentary debate on independence.
The MP stated:
"Bringing criminal charges is no way of resolving political differences. So firstly, will the Government today join calls for the government of Spain to engage in proper and respectful process of dialogue with the government of Catalonia. And secondly, will the Secretary of State commit to pressing the relevant European Union institutions to consider launching a procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union […] This is a matter for us and for the European Union, and is not just a domestic Spanish matter."
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