Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself

The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England
The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

Britain’s Conservatives won the election this month, but it may come at the expense of the union of the United Kingdom their party — which has “Unionist” in its name — is sworn to protect.

Conservatives neglected their responsibility to the union by calling the EU referendum in the first place. David Cameron hoped to resolve an intraparty dispute over Europe. He ended up dividing the four nations of the UK. Majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. They were outvoted by majorities in England and Wales.

Rather than attempt a “soft” Brexit that might appease Scots and prevent either a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, Cameron’s successors Theresa May and Boris Johnson negotiated a hard break: leaving the European customs union and single market in order to regain full control over immigration and economic policy.

The price could be Scottish independence and Irish unification, making Britain smaller than it has been in three centuries — and making a mockery of Brexiteers’ aspiration to lead a “Global Britain” outside the EU. Read more “Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself”

Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed

View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013
View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013 (CucombreLibre)

Since I moved to Barcelona and started writing about Catalan independence three years ago, I’ve worried that Spain’s refusal to engage with the movement would radicalize it and hollow out the middle in Catalan politics.

This is now borne out by research. Read more “Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014 (byronv2)

Scotland’s National Party is arguing for a second independence referendum after gaining seats in Britain’s general election on Thursday.

Party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes she has a mandate and Britain’s imminent departure from the EU changes the situation from 2014, when Scots rejected independence 55 to 45 percent.

She is right on the first point, but not yet on the second. Read more “Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait”

The Unrest in Catalonia, Explained

Catalans demonstrate in Barcelona, Spain against the imprisonment of separatist leaders, October 19
Catalans demonstrate in Barcelona, Spain against the imprisonment of separatist leaders, October 19 (Fotomovimiento)

Protests continue in Catalonia against the imprisonment of nine of the region’s separatist leaders.

Tuesday night was quiet, probably because it rained heavily, but I don’t expect this to peter out soon.

In case you haven’t been following the news, or don’t know much about Catalonia to begin with, here is an explainer to get you up to speed. Read more “The Unrest in Catalonia, Explained”

Sánchez Needs to Show Statesmanship in Catalonia

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Demonstrations for Catalan independence have always have been peaceful — until Tuesday, when a sit-in outside the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona led to acts of vandalism and altercations with riot police.

While most separatists, who were protesting the long prison sentences given to their leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court, left around dinner time, some donned masks and threw bottles and firecrackers at police. Later in the evening, trash cans were set on fire and barricades erected on the Passeig de Gràcia, a luxury shopping street. It took until early Wednesday morning to clear the avenue.

The knee-jerk reaction from the Spanish right is to clamp down. Pablo Casado, the leader of the largest right-wing party in Congress, has called on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a social democrat, to declare an emergency and take command of the Catalan regional police.

That is the worst thing he could do. Tensions are running high. The mossos (troopers) are at least seen as fellow Catalans by most protesters. Send in the National Police or the gendarmerie and the riots are bound to get worse.

Let Sánchez come to Barcelona instead, meet with members of the regional government and start listening to their demands; something he promised to do when he came to power a year ago, but still hasn’t.

This will be seen as weakness in other parts of Spain, where there isn’t a culture of compromise and consensus, but it will signal to Catalans that Madrid is finally taking them seriously. Read more “Sánchez Needs to Show Statesmanship in Catalonia”

Catalan Independence Leaders Sentenced to 9-13 Years in Prison

Oriol Junqueras
Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia’s Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015 (CDC)
  • Nine Catalan separatist leaders have been found guilty of sedition and in some cases misuse of public funds by Spain’s Supreme Court.
  • Among the convicted is former Catalan vice president, and leader of one of the two largest independence parties in the region, Oriol Junqueras, who has been sentenced to thirteen years in prison.
  • The Supreme Court threw out the most serious charge, rebellion, which carries a 25-year prison sentence.
  • Demonstrations have broken out across Catalonia. Protesters are blocking major streets in Barcelona. Some are attempting to occupy the airport.
  • A European arrest warrant has been reissued for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who denounced the verdict as an “outrage” from self-imposed exile in Belgium. Read more “Catalan Independence Leaders Sentenced to 9-13 Years in Prison”

Tragedy in Catalonia

Night falls on Barcelona's Plaça de Catalunya, Spain, September 11, 2017
Night falls on Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, Spain, September 11, 2017 (Sergio Marchi)

Twelve Catalans — ten politicians and two activists — went on trial this week for their role in the 2017 independence referendum and attempted secession from Spain.

There is a good chance the defendants, who include the former Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras — who still leads one of the region’s two largest pro-independence parties — will be found guilty of at least some of the charges against them. The Spanish Constitutional Court had, after all, forbidden the referendum in advance and the Spanish Constitution refers to the country’s “indissoluble” unity.

Hopefully the Supreme Court in Madrid (which is separate from the Constitutional Court) will throw out the more serious — and much harder to prove — accusations of rebellion and sedition, which carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.

But even light sentences would be a tragedy. This trial should never have happened. The 2017 referendum, which most opponents of independence boycotted, should never have happened. The reason it did is that the Spanish government at the time, led by the conservative People’s Party, refused dialogue with an increasingly restless nationalist movement in Catalonia. Read more “Tragedy in Catalonia”

Northern Irish, Scots Would Rather Stay in EU Than UK

Flags of the United Kingdom and Scotland in Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands, July 3, 2014
Flags of the United Kingdom and Scotland in Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands, July 3, 2014 (Julien Carnot)

Without an agreement to regulate Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, a majority of Northern Irish and Scots would rather remain in the bloc than in the United Kingdom.

Even with the deal Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated, which provides for a two-year transition out of the EU and avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a majority of Scots would prefer to break away from the UK. Read more “Northern Irish, Scots Would Rather Stay in EU Than UK”

Torra Gives Spain Ultimatum. His Position Is Weak

Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region's president, May 14
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Catalan president Quim Torra has given the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez an ultimatum: allow the Catalans to exert their right to self-determination (which Spain doesn’t recognize) by November or lose the support of Catalan nationalist parties in Congress.

Sánchez needs the Catalans for his majority, but Torra’s position is weaker. Read more “Torra Gives Spain Ultimatum. His Position Is Weak”

The Pettiness of Catalonia’s Unionists

A yellow ribbon is wrapped around a statue in Brussels, Belgium during a Catalan demonstration for independence, December 7, 2017
A yellow ribbon is wrapped around a statue in Brussels, Belgium during a Catalan demonstration for independence, December 7, 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

Catalan unionists, including the leaders of the region’s largest anti-independence party, Citizens, have taken to the streets to remove yellow ribbons that agitate for the release of separatist leaders.

Some eighty people descended on La Bisbal, a small town close to the French border, last night to remove yellow ribbons from buildings, wearing white industrial suits and masks.

The mayor, Lluís Sais, condemned the action, saying,

When someone has nothing to hide, and has no shame, they do not cover their faces.

Citizens party leaders Albert Rivera and Inés Arrimadas nevertheless joined the protest on Wednesday, removing yellow ribbons in Alella, half an hour’s drive north of Barcelona. Read more “The Pettiness of Catalonia’s Unionists”