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​Press briefing by President of the Government

Thursday 7 September 2017

A very good afternoon to you all. Thank you very much for attending.

I appear here before you to report on the agreements adopted at the extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers we have just held.

After having received the regulatory opinion of the Council of State and listened to the members of my cabinet, I have just given instructions to the State Legal Counsel to immediately lodge an appeal against the unconstitutional nature of the Referendum Act voted on by the Regional Parliament of Catalonia yesterday.

The Council of Ministers also agreed to lodge an appeal before the Constitutional Court against the decree to call a referendum signed last night by the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, as well as against the decree approving the complementary regulations to hold that referendum.

Lastly, we will appeal against Resolution 807/11 of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia appointing five members of the Electoral Board.

In these appeals, the government is petitioning for all these rules to be declared null and void and suspended until the corresponding ruling is handed down.

We have also requested that this suspension by personally notified to the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia and his entire cabinet, the leading senior officials of regional government involved in some form with the organisation of this referendum and the 947 mayors around Catalonia.

Lastly, the court is petitioned to warn all of these officials in the notification of their duty to prevent or paralyse any initiative supporting the organisation of this referendum.

These government agreements come on top of many others we have adopted recently to avoid an illegal referendum being held that would wipe out our national sovereignty, to avoid destroying the peaceful way we have lived side-by-side over the last 40 years of our democratic life and also to do away with the system of self-governance of Catalonia.

The many reasons behind today's decision are sound and I will try and outline them in an orderly and detailed fashion. Each one of them is sufficient justification in itself for the government's action, and together they constitute a wake-up call, regarding the most authoritarian and anti-democratic aspects of the actions taken by those responsible for the institutions of Catalonia.

The first reason is undoubtedly to honour our mandate to uphold and enforce the law.

The principle of legality underpins any civilised society. For the last 40 years, Spain has been a country that coexists in peace and according to a series of rules that were agreed upon by everyone. We live according to a series of rules that were not imposed on us by anyone, rules that all the people of Spain freely enacted to live in liberty and in peace. They are democratic rules that oversee the rights of individuals and control the actions of the public powers and ensure respect for the plurality of our society.

I repeat, the government, through its actions, defends the rule of law, which guarantees being able to live side-by-side in liberty.

Against this democratic will of the Spanish people, embodied in its rules, specifically in its supreme law - the Spanish Constitution - there is no other power that can undermine this or any form of alternative legitimacy.

Something should be made very clear: what is not legal is not democratic. Consequently, the main responsibility of my government, and of any government around the world, under any circumstance, is to ensure the law is upheld, because this ensures that the majority will of the people is upheld and democracy is preserved.

Furthermore, in this specific case of our appeal against the illegal referendum on self-rule called in Catalonia, we are defending a fundamental principle of our co-existence: the will of everyone to decide on the future of our country. That is national sovereignty, whereby we all decide on what belongs to us all, which is our country.

Our nation is not the product of any imposition, or of any last minute decision. It is the result of the will and the sentiments of generations of men and women who have sought to live together in their undeniable and enriching plurality. Together we have shared our lives until today and that is what we will continue doing until we decide otherwise; all of us together.

Not even me, in my role as President of the Government, or Parliament, or any other type of public power, can unilaterally take away this decision that falls to each and every one of the people of Spain to adopt.

Consequently, this referendum will not take place, regardless of the intentions to impose it in a rushed, sloppy and illegal manner.

No referendum on self-rule will take place, because this deprives the people of Spain as a whole from the right to decide on their own future. As you will appreciate, neither the government nor the courts can tolerate this in any way whatsoever.

As if these reasons were not enough, I would also remind you that the calling of a referendum on self-rule is a clear and intolerable act of disobedience against our democratic institutions, and the government also considers that it is obliged to defend the dignity of these very institutions.

All of the public powers - all of them - are obliged to loyally defend our Constitution and to uphold the different resolutions adopted by the Constitutional Court. This duty of loyalty is the fundamental basis of our rule of law and the cornerstone of the pact for co-existence made by the people of Spain forty years ago.

Furthermore, compliance with the Constitution does not mean, in any way whatsoever, that this text is a perpetual law or that it seeks to be such. Far from it. Each and every one of its provisions, including the most basic rules, can be amended. And this aspiration is legitimate, is acknowledged and is protected under this same piece of legislation. The Constitution can be amended, but only through the rules and procedures provided therein, and never through disobedience or anti-democratic and illegal imposition.

I would remind you that I invited Mr Puigdemont to outline his demands to the representatives of our national sovereignty in the Lower House of Parliament, in order to hold a debate on this. He never wanted to do this. Nor did he want to negotiate to find any other common ground other than the imposition of this referendum that no President of the Government of Spain can accept or negotiate.

By appealing to the Constitutional Court against these laws to call a referendum on self-governance, the government is also defending the very self-governance of Catalonia, the dignity of its institutions and the rights of its citizens.

To start with, the self-governance of Catalonia is attacked when the Constitution is attacked, on which it is based and from which it derives its legitimacy, and the legality of Catalonia is attacked when the Statute of Autonomy is attacked and when an attempt is made to repeal it with the stroke of a pen and without the majority provided for to even attempt its reform, which is a two-thirds majority.

I also wish to refer to the systematic disregard for the opinions and warnings received from its own institutions, such as the Consell de Garantias Estatutarias [Council for Statutory Guarantees]. I am talking about electoral rules imposed by a simple majority, far removed from those provided for in their own Estatut [Statute of Autonomy] for electoral processes to be held. And I am referring, of course, to the liquidation of the parliamentary practice in force since the restoration of the regional institutions, which were yesterday blown apart amidst the stupor, concern and embarrassment of everyone.

As regards the decree on the organisation of the referendum which, as I said to you at the beginning, we have also appealed against because its regulation breaches each and every one of the international criteria on popular consultations, I will save the arguments for now, among other reasons because, as I said earlier, this referendum will not be held under any circumstance whatsoever.

In short, this appeal before the Constitutional Court is obligatory, because of the need to defend such basic principles in a democracy as the principle of legality, national sovereignty, the dignity of institutions and the very regional legality of Catalonia.

By doing this we are defending the rights of all citizens, of the people of Spain as a whole, but we are also, and above all, defending the people of Catalonia, whose plurality and democratic will has been undermined by the imposition of its governors.

In all probability, no-one could ever imagine that we would help out such a democratically deplorable spectacle as we saw yesterday in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia. The whole series of illegal and arbitrary acts that took place there is the product of one single thing: the obstinacy of a few politicians in forcibly seeking to impose their breakaway plan on society.

That is why those responsible for this process have had no qualms whatsoever about enforcing the ground rules, approving phantom laws, stripping the opposition of their rights and ignoring the warnings given by their own legal service. They have brushed aside everything that constitutes a system of checks and balances and democratic guarantees.

You can be pro-independence in Spain, you can advocate wiping out national sovereignty or proposing any other form of political initiative. These aspirations can be expressed and advocated through the appropriate channels in our legal system. What cannot be done, and will not be done, at least while I am President of the Government, is to brush aside our democratic rules to achieve this.

What we have seen recently is less like a demand for sovereignty and more like a problem of individual liberties and fundamental rights, which affect the values that govern a democratic society.

That is why I also want to take this opportunity to say to the citizens of Catalonia and their public servants that they should remain calm. Nobody can force them to do anything illegal. They are subject to the law, but the law also protects them and will defend them against any arbitrary decisions.

I also want to use these words to express my recognition and gratitude to the opposition political groups in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia and for those responsible for the legal service in the Regional Parliament for the courage they showed yesterday in defending the legality and dignity of the institutions of Catalonia. They should be aware that they are not alone and that they are backed by all democrats, both within Catalonia and beyond.

In politics, the only battle that is inevitably lost is the one that is not fought. They fought a battle yesterday the result of which was a foregone conclusion. They lost the vote but they have won a great political victory and have done a great service to society and to democracy. They have stripped bare and exposed the anti-democratic perversion of this process to Catalonia and to the whole world. Their attitude served for all the people of Catalonia to clearly see the type of political regime that they wish to impose.

As regards the legal service of the Regional Parliament and those in charge of the Consell de Garantías Estatutarias, I would simply like to say that thanks to them the Regional Parliament of Catalonia continues today to be a respectable institution.

I repeat, I wish to express my sincere recognition of them.

To those in charge of the Regional Government of Catalonia, I would tell them not to continue down this path towards an institutional precipice, not to underestimate the power of Spanish democracy, to take on board once and for all the failure of their political project and to abandon this increasingly more exclusionary process.

This referendum will not be held. So they should stop trying to force the will of the people. They have not managed to impose their project on the people of Catalonia as a whole, and they will obviously not manage to impose this on the rest of Spain.

The image of what happened yesterday in the Regional Parliament before the whole of Europe and the rest of the world is one of the greatest blows to the institutions of Catalonia in its entire history. Do not continue down this path, do not wipe out your own institutions. Listen and take heed to what your own advisory bodies are saying, and don't give way to them forcing through something that cannot be won in a good democratic fight.

Do not continue dividing Catalan society, stop harassing those who disagree with you and respect the rights of the people. Stop putting the institutions at your own service.

I would ask that you abandon now this escalation of illegality, of tension and of authoritarianism, because the rule of law will not be bent to your will and illegalities, quite simply because it cannot be.

I will draw to a close now, but I don't want to do so without sending out a message to the whole of Spanish society.

I understand the concern of many people given what is taking place; I understand their uncertainty and unease. We all have good reason to be concerned, because never before in our recent history have we seen an attack of this nature on our way of life together.

I understand that many people are saddened by unjustifiable and unfair statements and attitudes. I am also perfectly well aware of the unrest that a great many Catalans may feel today at the institutional debacle they witnessed yesterday.

I would encourage all of them to not feel associated with and concerned by what has been taking place in recent days. Do not heed these events as if they were something far removed from your own lives. You are citizens and they are talking about your country, about your rights, about your future and about our way of life together. These are all questions of vital importance. They should be of great concern to you.

But it is also my obligation to say to you that you can keep your trust in your institutions and in your democracy. No-one is going to waver when upholding their duty. Democracy will respond, have no doubts about that. It will do so firmly, with aplomb, with serenity and with dignity.

Our rule of law may seem slow at times, or even shy at times when faced with the audacity of those who challenge it, or sometimes unsettled by its own plurality when faced with the monolithic behaviour of others, but these appearances should not allow us to be deceived. Our internal strength will prevail at those times when it is needed. It is the strength of concord with which we have forged our democratic co-existence, it is the force of the unity of democrats, it is the force of democracy.

I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the willingness and loyalty shown by the parties that defend our constitutional order and the support they are lending to the Government of Spain in these difficult circumstances. I believe that this attitude is also grounds for us all to remain calm. This unity is in strong contrast to the rift we saw in Catalonia yesterday.

This is one of those occasions in which responsible politicians must be capable of taking the high ground to stand united on fundamental issues, putting aside those minor day-to-day disputes. I have worked and I will continue to work to maintain that unity and that mutual loyalty when dealing with this situation. I strongly believe that the other leaders will conduct themselves in a similar fashion.

I will end now.

I firmly believe that we are all providing the calm but firm and effective response needed and I ask you to support us and accompany us in this task, and I can assure you that I am well aware of my obligations and of the gravity of the situation. I am well aware of what is at play here. I know what is expected of me and I know what my obligations are, and I can assure you that I have not dedicated so many years to my country and to the general interest to now allow our model of co-existence to be undone at the stroke of a pen. That will not happen and I will do everything necessary, without renouncing anything, to avoid this.

Spain will continue to be a benchmark around the world in showing that it is possible to live together successfully in unity and in diversity. We are going to show that Spanish democracy, which is free and plural, knows how to defend itself from the enemies of co-existence and we will do this well, which is how things should be done. Have no doubts about that.

Thank you very much.

Non official translation