Catalan referendum: Spain's King Felipe launches blistering attack on separatist politicians

'They have shown contempt for the affection and feelings of solidarity which have united and will unite all Spaniards'

Alasdair Fotheringham
Tuesday 03 October 2017 22:31 BST
Spanish King Felipe VI slams Catalan authorities

King Felipe of Spain has used a nation-wide address to make blistering criticisms of Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government, accusing the secessionists of “breaking democratic principles” and trying to split up Spain.

Somberly dressed in a dark suit and sitting with the Spanish and EU flags behind him, in a pre-recorded speech run on prime-time evening tv, King Felipe said: “Today Catalan society is divided and broken apart.

“Thanks to their irresponsible behaviour, those [Catalan] authorities have put the social identity of Catalonia and all Spain at risk. They have shown contempt for the affection and feelings of solidarity which have united and will unite all Spaniards."

Following the playing of the national anthem, the King started his speech by saying that democracy in Spain faced an “extremely serious situation” before insisting that any unilateral declaration of independence, likely to be voted on by the Catalan parliament in the near future, would be illegal.

Whilst making no mention of the hundreds of injured as a result of police actions during the banned referendum in Catalonia - which, with an overwhelming vote in favour of independence, has brought Spain’s worst constitutional crisis in decades to a head - King Felipe accused the Catalan independence campaigners of failing to respect the Spanish constitution “repeatedly, deliberately and consciously”.

He then underlined “the crown’s unswerving commitment to the Spanish constitution and to the unity of Spain.”

Catalonia declares win for 'yes' side in independence vote marred by violence

He said: “It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order and the normal functioning of the institution.”

After his grimly worded comments, the King attempted to conclude his speech on an upbeat note, by promising that Spain would “overcome difficult times.”

For the Spanish monarchy to comment directly and at length on any political event in or outside the country is almost unprecedented.

This is the first time King Felipe - who reportedly cleared his agenda this week in order to remain in Spain and prepare the speech - has spoken to the nation outside the usual Christmas addresses.

His father Juan Carlos, in a reign that lasted nearly four decades, only did so on four occasions: during the 1981 attempted coup d’etat, after the 2004 Madrid bombings and on the death of former prime minister, Adolfo Suarez, widely considered to be a father of Spain’s modern democracy, in March 2014. He also announced his own abdication three months later.

Previously, in December 2015, King Felipe had reportedly attempted to mediate between Madrid and Catalonia, without success, and since then he has rarely referred to the region’s independence drive.

His most direct comment in nearly two years came during a prize giving ceremony in Cuenca cathedral last September, when he opened his remarks by referring in somewhat vague terms to the “situation in Catalonia” and expressing general hopes that the constitution would prevail over any ruptures of the “co-existence in society.”

The defence by King Felipe of the constitution and condemnation of Catalonia’s nationalists on the other hand, was far more direct and was widely welcomed by Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy’s supporters.

“A loud and clear message from His Majesty in defence of Spanish unity and all law-abiding Spaniards,” tweeted Spain’s Minister of the Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido.

However, the reaction at grassroots levels amongst Catalonia’s independence movement and in Spain’s hard-left could hardly have been clearer either.

Even as the King was talking, in parts of Barcelona pro-independence campaigners began a cacerolada - the noisy banging of pots and pans - to express their disagreement, whilst hard-left Podemos politician Pablo Echineque argued: “The king has taken sides and left millions of Spaniards out of his speech.”

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