Brexit: where do Catalans stand?

Think pro-independentists would be pro-Brexit too? Think again…

Barcelona councilor Jaume Collboni at the opening of the Punt Brexit information office (by Inés Valverde)
Barcelona councilor Jaume Collboni at the opening of the Punt Brexit information office (by Inés Valverde) / ACN

Oliver Little | Barcelona

November 27, 2019 05:40 PM

Another year comes to an end. The perennial struggles continue. Its name used to strike fear into some, inspiration into (slightly) more. Now? Whether you're a remainer or a brexiteer, you'd do well to not instinctively roll your eyes. 

Four failed bills, one vote of no-confidence and soon to be two general elections later, Brexit has officially entered its fourth year. Since June 2016, it has been the bane of British existence and, much like the political situation in Catalonia, there is little indication of resolve. 

But where do the Catalan citizens and political parties stand? Are the pro-independence camp pro-Brexit too? Or are the right-wing backing the British movement's nationalist foundations? Well, actually it's pretty much neither.

Catalan people firmly pro-EU

Although no surveys have been published on the average Catalan opinion on Brexit, a survey run by the Generalitat suggests that just 12% of citizens in Catalonia are anti-EU.

It would be logical to assume then that the 62% that declared themselves firmly pro-EU (the remaining 26% were unsure) would be against a British exit from the European Union. 

Surveys show that at the start of 2017, support in the European Union and its institutions was at 60.6%. This dropped severely in the aftermath of the 2017 referendum to 48%, but as of April 2019 is now back up at 56%.

The European elections and the release of the verdict to the Catalan trial, sentencing nine of Catalonia's independence leaders to 9-13 years behind bars for their role in the 2017 referendum, occurred after these figures were released.

This meant that jailed Esquerra Republicana leader Oriol Junqueras, as well as Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, currently in exile, were unable to take up their seats as MEPs despite being elected in May, and the figures released on opinions of the European Union do not account for this.

Anti-Brexit to the left and to the right

The Catalan government has expressed strong opposition to a hard Brexit, which could bring about financial losses for companies, shops, and restaurants due to reduced tourism, and the more competitive trade sectors such as manufacturing due to a complicated trade relationship between Catalonia and the UK.

Its pro-independence parties have been outspoken over their concerns, Esquerra, and Junts per Catalunya, the two main pro-independence parties in the Catalan and Spanish government, have been outspoken in expressing serious concerns over Brexit. 

Esquerra described the result of the referendum as a ''negative development'' for Europe, while in their latest manifesto for the November 10 general election, Junts per Catalunya spoke of preparing for the negative consequences on the Britain-Catalonia trade relations. 

So pro-independence, but anti-Brexit. How can this be? 

Well, unlike Brexit, the Catalan independence movement is very much pro-EU. Catalonia plans to leave Spain and apply to join the European Union as a separate new state. Of course with Brexit, the whole premise is exactly the opposite. 

Towards the center, the Socialists are firmly pro-Europe, whilst their Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez has criticized Brexit as ''founded on lies,'' and that ''with Brexit, we all lose.''

Left-wing En Comú Podem, whose Spanish equivalent 'Podemos' is a member of European affiliation 'Maintenant le Peuple' (Now the People) have expressed fears that Brexit is detracting from European stability, and have backed a second referendum. 

The right-wing have expressed several concerns over Brexit since the referendum. Ciutadans, a member party of the pro-European Union Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, have criticized excessive ''nationalism'' in Europe, and much like they are against a referendum for Catalan independence, they believe that David Cameron made a mistake in calling one. 

However, former leader of the party in Spain Albert Rivera described Brexit as an ''antidote'' for the European Union, perhaps implying that it will be a wakeup call for Europe.

The pro-European Partit Popular has said that Brexit had the potential to be a ''historic failure,'' for Gibraltar, which remains a territory of Britain despite heavily voting to remain in the European Union, expressing particular concerns towards businessmen. 

Far-right party Vox, who initially said that Brexit was an example of the ''freedom and identity of European nations,'' have since said that Brexit is the consequence of European error, and will put an end to the ''European model as we know it.''

Vox is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party, a Eurosceptic European political party with a focus on reforming the European Union, and one that is highly critical of today's European Union.