Independence referendum is out of the question, Spain’s PM tells Catalonia

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Thursday told the Catalan regional president a self-determination referendum is out of the question even after he allied with Catalan separatist parties in Parliament.

“No constitution in the world accepts and allows the separation of a part of its country. None. In Spain either,” Sanchez told a press briefing in Barcelona after meeting Pere Aragones, the Catalan regional president.

Aragones though insisted, in a separate press conference, the holding of a referendum is the only “viable path” to resolve the political conflict.

The separatist leader pointed out how Sanchez used to oppose an amnesty bill for Catalan separatists before backtracking in November in exchange for the critical support of Aragones’ Esquerra Republicana party and fellow Junts separatist party to a new term in office.

Sanchez opposes independence but supports dialogue with Catalan regional authorities to ease tensions with the wealthy northeastern region following its failed 2017 independence bid.

Back then a referendum on a breakaway that courts had banned and a short-lived declaration of independence triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades that has still to be fully overcome.

The amnesty bill is poised to erase the legal records of hundreds of people involved in Catalonia’s pro-independence movement and has triggered protests and the fierce opposition of conservative parties and some judges.

Sanchez, however, said the Spanish government was eager to discuss measures to strengthen Catalonia’s self-government and reach agreements that promote the unity of Catalans. In the past, he has said a referendum would further divide the region’s people.

The Spanish and Catalan governments will hold a negotiation meeting in the first quarter of next year.

Both Esquerra and Junts have warned their support for Sanchez’s Socialist-led government in Parliament will depend on progress in their demands.

(Reporting by Joan Faus and David Latona; editing by Inti Landauro and Jonathan Oatis)