Spain’s pardoning of Catalan separatists may backfire

In one of his adventures on the highways of 17th-century Spain, Don Quixote encounters a gang of prisoners ‘manacled and strung together by the neck, like beads, on a great iron chain’. Undeterred by Sancho’s protestations that these are criminals on their way to serve as galley slaves in just punishment for their crimes, Don Quixote, declaring that it is his duty as a knight errant to provide ‘succour for the wretched’, fights off the guards and frees them. In something of the same spirit, Spain’s prime minister has just announced a pardon for Catalan separatist leaders. Nine politicians, serving sentences of up to 13 years for offences including sedition,

Catalonia’s grievance culture

‘Scotland,’ declared the Times in 1856, is ‘manifestly a country in want of a grievance.’ The same could be said of Catalonia, which held regional elections this week. Catalonia spent much of the nineteenth century adding to its store of grievances. In 1885 a deputation of politicians travelled to Madrid in a fruitless attempt to interest Spain’s government in a comprehensive list of their region’s ‘greuges’ (Catalan for grievances). A century later the post-Franco democratic settlement for Catalonia attempted to right these historical wrongs once and for all by granting the region unprecedented powers of self-government. Since then Catalonia’s autonomy has increased even further. Today, amongst other competencies, it has

Does Catalonia really want independence?

In 1714, after a long siege, Spain managed to regain control of Barcelona after the War of Spanish Succession. Catalan nationalists point to the day Barcelona fell, 11 September 1714, as the point when Madrid began to strip their homeland of its ancient privileges, and three centuries of subjugation and repression began. To remind everyone of the importance of the year 1714, Barcelona fans chant in favour of independence for Catalonia when the Camp Nou football stadium clock shows that 17 minutes and 14 seconds of a match have passed. Meanwhile the day itself, 11 September, is commemorated every year as La Diada (‘The Day’), Catalonia’s national day. In most

When Brexiter meets Catalexiter

After the hostel breakfast, I stood on the tropical grass lawn smoking the first fag of the day and mulled things over. For the past three days I had been pedalling my electric power-assisted bike up and down Rwanda’s green hills. I was bruised from falls, physically and mentally tired, and prone, as I always am in Africa, to mood swings. Today I was not depressed exactly but overwhelmed with pessimism. Now, after breakfast, for example, the conviction struck me that before my mother died I thought I knew everything, and since her death I’ve realised that I don’t know anything. Lying on the grass a few yards away was

Carles Puigdemont’s arrest flares tensions in Catalonia

Remember the Catalonia issue? Up until a couple of days ago, you would have been forgiven for supposing it had all just magically been cleared up. But on Sunday, former pro-independence Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was detained by German police while on his way back from Finland to Belgium, where he has been in voluntary exile since last October. German courts now have a couple of months to decide whether to return the secessionists’ poster-boy to his home country; if they do, he faces charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds in connection with the Catalan independence referendum he organised last October – a vote that was declared illegal

The stage is set for the Spanish government’s worst nightmare

It’ll be a tense Christmas in the Spanish’s PM’s household this year. Yesterday, in an election called by Mariano Rajoy last month, Catalan pro-independence parties gained a slim majority in the region’s parliament: Together for Catalonia, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the Popular Unity Party (CUP) look set to have jointly won 70 seats in the 135-seat congress. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party, meanwhile, posted its worst result ever, losing eight of its previously-held eleven seats. The stage is set for the Spanish government’s worst nightmare: another attempt by Catalan secessionists to divorce Spain. Rajoy had been hoping for a return to normality in Catalonia after a tumultuous few

Catalonia braces itself for another independence fight

Two months on, the outcome of the messy sequence of events triggered by Catalonia’s independence referendum remains unclear: neither side has secured its desired result and, in their own ways, both have behaved badly. How did Spain arrive at this bitter impasse, and what will happen next in the Catalonia saga? If the optimism of Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish PM, is to be believed, there could be an end in sight very soon. Rajoy, who dissolved the Catalan parliament and called regional elections for December 21, says he is hoping for a restoration of ‘peace and social harmony’ in Catalonia. Rajoy’s statement, made in a TV interview this week, was a barely-disguised plea to

Portrait of the Week – 2 November 2017

Home A great ferment of accusations of sexual impropriety was made against people in Parliament and out of it. Bex Bailey, a Labour party worker, said she was raped, not by an MP, at a party event in 2011 and a senior Labour official discouraged her from reporting it. Jared O’Mara MP had the Labour whip withdrawn while claims were investigated that he had called a woman he met ‘an ugly bitch’. Tulip Siddiq, a Labour MP, said that cases of sexual misconduct cases at Westminster could run into hundreds. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, was even driven to apologise publicly for putting his hand on the knee of

Jake Wallis Simons

Carles Puigdemont’s descent into mockery is complete

It was the question that many journalists were asking: what had become of Mrs Puigdemont and the two little Puigdemonts? Well, yesterday afternoon we found out. After a bit of elementary detective work, we photographed her driving home with her two children in the car. In other words, doing the school run. Now, Marcela Topor – she uses her maiden name – has long stood four-square behind her husband in his quixotic battle for independence. For all we know, she could have no objection to him leaving her holding the babies (she did not respond to my request for an interview). But as I caught sight of the harassed expression

Catalonia’s ‘silent majority’ does not want independence from Spain

Barcelona I was roaring through central Barcelona on the back of a motorcycle, in the midst of a pack of unionist riders adorned with Spanish flags, all sounding their horns with reckless abandon, when it hit me: this was the voice of the silent majority. Catalonia does not want independence from Spain. But let me begin at the beginning. Yesterday afternoon, the word was put out on Twitter that a group of unionists were intending to parade through Barcelona on two wheels before riding out to the port, where a battalion of national police were barracked in a ship. There they planned to serenade officers and shower them with flowers

European press on Catalonia: “Suddenly, Brexit doesn’t seem so bad”

“Look on the bright side…Brexit no longer seems so serious” Chappatte in Le Temps, Switzerland The events in Catalonia dominate Europe’s press this morning, seen as the biggest political crisis to hit the country since the attempted coup d’état of 1981. The Madrid-based El País says the invocation of Article 155 was done so ‘legally and transparently’ and does not constitute an act of aggression against Catalan self-government or the rights of Catalans. Rather, El País views Madrid’s response to the crisis as ‘legitimate and necessary’ in the face of the challenge posed by Catalonia’s ‘irresponsible and reckless’ political leaders. It calls a ‘quick, legal and legitimate’ return to self-government

Will Britain back Madrid for the sake of Brexit?

Theresa May’s official spokesperson has just issued a statement on Catalonia’s declaration of independence that will please Madrid. It makes clear that the ‘UK does not and will not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence’. It says that the declaration is ‘based on a vote declared illegal by the Spanish courts’. It concludes by saying that ‘we want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved’. What is telling about this statement is that it doesn’t even included the kind of diplomatically phrased call for restraint that Donald Tusk’s tweet did. Now, you can say that the UK statement is not that dissimilar to

Catalonia’s quest for independence should serve as a warning to the EU

The Spanish Senate has just triggered Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to impose direct rule over Catalonia. The decision, which Madrid claims is necessary to restore constitutional order, was taken following the escalation of tensions since the 1st October referendum. That resulted in a declaration of independence that was initially suspended but then activated this afternoon. The situation is currently extremely tense. The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has called an extraordinary Council of Ministers this afternoon, which will sign off the implementation of measures under Article 155, including forcing the Catalan leader Puigdemont and his ministers to step down. It is difficult to predict how things will unfold, although

The damage is done in Catalonia. Now it’s time to restore the rule of law

If you have seen images from earlier today when the rump Catalan parliament – vacated by the non-separatist MPs, about half of the chamber – voted to unilaterally declare independence, you may have wondered about the serious look on parliamentarians’ faces. Why the sombre visages, if this is the defining moment in their careers: the birthday of their long-craved republic? Perhaps they are worried about the uncertainty of what comes next, and the expectation that it will not be good. The Spanish government has, after all, just obtained a mandate to enforce constitutional provisions by which it will temporarily take control of the Catalan administration. The aim is to restore

Stephen Daisley

The Catalan crisis has exposed what the EU really stands for

The Catalan Parliament has voted for a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. President Carles Puigdemont had toyed with taking the decision but in the end left it up to the legislature. It is now not a question of Madrid deposing him; it will have to shut down the whole operation. Direct rule is all but inevitable. Madrid held out this nuclear option in the hope of dissuading the nationalists from taking the leap but the bluff has been called. After the scenes that greeted the October 1st referendum on independence, only an optimist would expect the Spanish imposition to be a bloodless affair. Most Catalans did not want to

Tom Goodenough

Catalonia’s crisis deepens further

The Catalan crisis deepens by the day. This afternoon, the region’s parliament backed a declaration of independence from Spain. Here is the moment Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan parliament, announced the outcome of the vote: The country’s senate did not take long to react by voting to impose direct rule in Catalonia. This triggering of Article 155 in the Spanish constitution, which allows the government to take charge in the Catalan region, has never been done before and it amounts to something of a nuclear option (the country’s former foreign secretary Jose Manuel Garcia once likened the Articl to ‘an atomic bomb’). Both sides, it is now clear, will

Portrait of the week | 26 October 2017

Home  Of perhaps 400 Britons returned from the former territory of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, those who ‘do not justify prosecution’ should be reintegrated, Max Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the BBC. Rory Stewart MP, asked about foreigners fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, said that ‘the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them’. Jared O’Mara MP resigned from the Commons equalities committee after attention was directed to remarks he made online in 2004, such as that Michelle McManus had only won Pop Idol ‘because she was fat’. Theresa May had been ‘anxious, despondent and

Portrait of the week | 12 October 2017

Home Theresa May, the Prime Minister, when asked by Iain Dale in an interview on LBC: ‘If there was a Brexit vote now, would you vote Brexit?’ repeatedly refused to say. Earlier, briefing the House of Commons on Brexit, she said that the country must prepare for ‘every eventuality’. The government published two papers on trade and customs arrangements that envisaged ways by which Britain could thrive as an ‘independent trading nation’ even if no trade deal were reached with Brussels. Mrs May admitted that during a transitional period, the European Court of Justice would retain jurisdiction. Asked five times if the government had received legal advice on whether the

Barometer | 12 October 2017

Cheat sheets The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education wants universities to catch out more students who buy essays online. How much do cheats pay for this service? — 1,000 words in seven days to 1st standard £103. Also offers 2:1 standard for £74 and 2:2 standard for £57. This website offers a refund if you don’t get the promised grade. —A rival site offers a 1st standard essay in seven days from just £18.99, with £13.99 for a 2.1 and £11.99 for a 2.2. — From £16.18 per page on a site which says ‘compare our prices with those set by solicitors, barristers, doctors or accountants’. Falling short Where