Catalonia’s government breaks up over separatist rift

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Catalonia’s governing coalition shattered on Friday night as disagreement over how hard to push for independence prompted one member of the alliance to quit in disgust.

The future of government in one of Spain’s economic engines was thrown into doubt by the move, but the region’s president rejected the possibility of new elections and vowed to govern in the minority.

The vote to abandon the coalition cemented a divide within the pro-independence movement, which was united by a disputed referendum in 2017 on secession but has since splintered because of clashes over how to fight on.

The break-up was triggered by Together for Catalonia, the junior coalition partner, whose members voted by 56 to 42 per cent to quit because of perceptions that Catalonia’s president Pere Aragonès was not doing enough for separatism.

Laura Borras, president of Together, which takes a hardline approach to secession, said after the vote that Aragonès “had lost democratic legitimacy” and failed as the coalition’s leader.

“We will work to revive independence,” she said. “The members have not only decided to leave the government, but we want to recover the direction of this country.”

Aragonès, a pro-independence moderate who angered Together by talking to the central government to resolve differences, said: “Citizens are not served by abandoning responsibilities. We will not abandon the public in complicated times like the current one.”

He said he would announce a new government line-up in the coming days.

The referendum five years ago, which was rejected by Madrid and declared illegal by Spain’s top court, triggered the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister who has taken part in talks with Aragonès, said on Friday: “In these difficult and complex times the stability of governments is essential . . . I back stability, in this case of the government of Catalonia.”

Aragonès’s Republican Catalan Left (ERC) controls just 33 of 135 seats in the regional parliament, leaving him with an uphill struggle to pass legislation, including a new budget to tackle the cost of living crisis.

“We continue to govern by seeking to build alliances in order to move the country forward,” Aragonès said.

Together’s leadership was itself divided over whether to quit the government, reflecting the fine gradations of opinion within the independence movement.

Aragonès and other political leaders had previously signalled that they believed inflation and the energy crisis made it the wrong time for new elections.

The coalition crisis began last week when Aragonès fired his vice-president Jordi Puigneró, Together’s most senior figure in government, after the party threatened to call a vote of confidence against him.

Together responded by calling a ballot of its members on its future on Thursday and Friday.

In the independence vote in 2017, the Catalan government said that 90 per cent of the 2.3mn ballots cast were for independence, but only about 40 per cent of eligible voters took part.

The latest polls indicate that a majority of Catalans do not want to split from Spain. Fifty-two per cent of people were against independence and 41 per cent in favour, according to a survey in September by the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió, the official Catalan polling agency.

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