Spanish conservatives blocked from government after snub to Catalan separatists

Leader of the People's Party Alberto Nunez-Feijoo intervenes in the parliamentary debate
'We have done everything we can': Mr Feijóo insisted the political battle would continue after Wednesday's vote - Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The leader of Spain’s conservative party was blocked from taking power after refusing to do a deal with Catalan separatists.

Alberto Nuñez Feijóo’s defeat in Wednesday’s investiture vote has left his People’s Party (PP) outside of government despite having won the most seats in an inconclusive election that was held in July.

He now faces a second parliamentary vote on Friday, which he is also expected to lose, paving the way for Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s acting socialist prime minister, to try to form a government.

Wednesday’s vote saw Mr Feijóo fail to secure an absolute majority of 176 in the 350-seat Spanish parliament, securing 172 votes in favour with 178 against.

Having dismissed a deal with Catalan separatists over a controversial amnesty linked to a failed 2017 independence bid, the PP only had the backing of the hard-Right Vox party: considered a pariah by the centre-Right nationalists, Left-wing lawmakers and two smaller regional parties.

Alberto Nunez-Feijoo (centre) arriving before the vote was held
Alberto Nunez-Feijoo (centre) arrives ahead of the vote - EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The bar will be lowered on Friday, when only a simple majority of more votes in favour than against will be required for the PP to take power.

“It is clear that we have done everything we can, and that Spain can rest assured because we are going to continue to work for it,” Mr Feijóo told reporters after the investiture vote.

If Mr Feijóo fails to win approval on his second attempt, Mr Sánchez will have two months to secure sufficient support or Spaniards must return to the polls for another election early next year.

The socialist leader would have to win the backing of lawmakers from a group of competing Left-wingers, regionalist and separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country.

So far, he is believed to have the backing of 171 lawmakers, meaning he must strike a deal with the hardline Catalan separatist party Together for Catalonia, which has seven lawmakers, to secure a majority.

Carles Puigdemont, the party’s leader, has said the price for its support will be an amnesty for separatists facing legal action over the secession attempt six years ago. Mr Puigdemont led the independence drive and then fled Spain to avoid prosecution.

Mr Sánchez, who has previously pardoned several high-level Catalan separatists, has kept quiet on the possibility of an amnesty, and only said that he wants to continue “normalising” relations with the north-east region where tensions have decreased in recent years.

Together for Catalonia and the more moderate Left-wing separatist party Catalan Republican Left have also demanded a referendum on independence during the next legislature.

For any new government to agree to a referendum, it would have to change the Spanish constitution.

‘Direct attack’ on ‘democratic values’

Isabel Rodriguez, the Spanish government’s spokesman, said the acting administration would act “within the spirit and the letter of the constitution”.

During the debate before the investiture vote, Mr Feijóo launched a blistering attack on the government over a possible amnesty deal.

“Whether Sánchez will end up being prime minister or not depends entirely on what Puigdemont wants,” he said.

“What the pro-independence movement is proposing is a direct attack on the essential democratic values of our country.”

On Tuesday, Mr Feijóo had claimed that he was close to becoming prime minister, but that he was not willing to pay the political price of the amnesty that the Catalan separatists wanted in exchange for their support.

On Sunday, about 40,000 flag-waving protesters demonstrated in Madrid against demands for any such amnesty, which Mr Feijóo told the crowd amounted to “blackmail” against Spain.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.