From the UK to Catalonia – treating voters like criminals

The Spanish authorities and Britain’s Remainer elite have a shared contempt for democracy.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill


A referendum on independence denounced as a criminal enterprise. A public vote written off as immoral and illegal. Political figures threatened with imprisonment if they even dream of pursuing the public’s desire for a clean break from old political arrangements.

But that’s enough about the outlook of Britain’s Remainer elites – let’s now look at what is happening in Catalonia.

Spain’s authoritarian assault on the Catalan politicians who organised 2017’s unofficial independence referendum is deeply disturbing. You don’t have to be a supporter of independence for Catalonia to see that handing these politicians prison sentences of between nine and 13 years is profoundly illiberal and anti-democratic.

It is utterly clueless, too. It will backfire terribly for the Spanish authorities. It already is, in fact. Yesterday’s huge and rowdy protests in Barcelona confirm that people do not take kindly to seeing their political representatives being treated in such a tyrannical way. If Spain’s establishment thought that making political prisoners of the organisers of the Catalan referendum would put a lid on the Catalonia question, it is in for a rude and difficult shock.

The events in Catalonia feel shocking. (Not to Brussels, though, which seems quite relaxed about this authoritarian behaviour in one of its own member states, just as it has been chilled out, and even supportive, of President Macron’s relentless year-long assault on the gilets jaunes.) And yet they feel familiar, too. The authorities’ insistence that a referendum was wicked, dangerous and fundamentally criminal – haven’t we heard that before?

Yes, we have. From Britain’s own Remainer establishment and Remainer chattering classes. For three years now, these arch anti-democrats have been denouncing the EU referendum as a corrupted event, even as a criminal event.

From Carole Cadwalladr’s conspiracy theories about Brexit being a ‘criminal enterprise’ to mainstream politicians insisting the referendum result is illegitimate because the whole thing was hijacked by evil Russians or dodgy businessmen, there has been a palpable effort within the elite to depict Brexit as a crime.

Indeed, Leave campaigners were reported not only to the Electoral Commission but also the National Crime Agency. The NCA’s investigation of aspects of a Leave group’s funding got the Remainer elites very excited. They were sorely disappointed when it ruled that no crimes had been committed. Because, like Spain’s authoritarians, they wanted this independence referendum to be judged a criminal act.

Remainers even fantasise about imprisoning those who pursue a clean-break Brexit. Witness the glee with which they inform Boris Johnson and others that they could end up in the slammer if they act against the Benn Bill that forbids a No Deal Brexit without parliament’s approval. As the Guardian put it, ‘Legal experts have warned that Boris Johnson could face prison if he refuses to abide by the bill’. The anti-democratic activist Femi Oluwole has fantasised about Boris being jailed for 20 years.

The Spanish authorities’ jailing of Catalan independence campaigners is horrendous. All democrats should oppose it. But here’s a disturbing truth: the Spanish elite has only done to independence campaigners in Catalonia what British Remainers fantasise about doing to us Brexiteers.

In fact, Remainers’ fantasies – if they ever came true – would be even worse than what Spain has done. Spain heavy-handedly clamped down on the organisers of an unofficial referendum – Remainers want to criminalise and overturn an entirely legitimate, entirely democratic referendum. That’s how far these people have gone down the road of authoritarianism.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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L Whiting

8th November 2019 at 11:20 pm

It occurred to me after watching France 24 that Catalonia is the way ahead. The only way Europe could work is is the provinces replaced that stars like Germany, Spain, Italy and France. It is the nation states and corruption that kill the EU among with the Euro.

T Zazoo

17th October 2019 at 1:55 am

I hope everyone is playing Chattering Class bingo. You pick a number and if that is the paragraph where Brendan says ‘Chattering Classes’ you win.

This week’s winner is #6. Congratulations if this was your pick.

Dave Swift

16th October 2019 at 10:38 pm

I voted remain. All my older and retired relatives voted leave. My mum hates Germans and immigrants so she couldn’t wait to vote leave: “Bloody Merkel – she’s filth”

None of us have been treated like criminals. All of us are (in my family) outside the prison system and happy enough although my mum does get angry if she sees a European on the telly: “They can all f**k off – we voted leave”.

Based on my family I’d say that you can keep most Brexit voters happy and content by turning the telly off and cooking them a decent meal – as they eat and drink, away from the 24/7 news, they forget that they’re meant to be full of passion and anger and willing to kill and die “as long as we’re free of those Nazis in that bloody Brussels.”

After a nice meal my mum likes to have a nap on the sofa while my dad does the dishes – all thoughts of going to Europe to wage with the Nazis or going on hunger strike until we’re no longer subject to the ECJ recede. She possibly quietly dreams of The Brexit Party running the country, with the occasional snoring and breaking of wind (my mum, not TBP).

Jerry Owen

17th October 2019 at 10:49 am

What did your mother do wrong when you were a child to end up with a patronising sarcastic son like you ?
Your mother deserves better… some respect to start with perhaps.

Thorunn Sleight

18th October 2019 at 7:12 pm

Respect is earned, not deserved, and you know nothing about this poster’s family. Very likely they relate to one another in a sarcastic, yet loving way. Worry about your own family relationships and stop being so judgemental.

Perverted Lesbian

16th October 2019 at 11:08 am

I said exactly this on my Reddit account a couple of days ago, perhaps BON saw it, but as I do not have any followers I guess I’ll have to make do with being a Shadow Influencer ?

Mark Ryder

16th October 2019 at 10:14 am

It isn’t about the illegal referendum or about voting. The Catalan politicians are in this sad plight because they unilaterally declared Catalonia independent. It was thought that Puigdemont was going to declare and kind of truce and negotiate but at the last movement egged on by Oriol he decided to cross the line and declare UDI. Can you imagine Sturgeon or any other respectable British politician doing something like that? No indeed it is unthinkable. The rule of law is respected.
These politicians have no one but themselves to blame. They crossed the line. What is to be done now? Forgive and forget until tomo whenthey do it again?
The inhabitants of Catalonia are not in favour of independence. The polls show this over and over again. Separatists have spent years bullying the population the majority of whom just want to live in peace.

Gareth Edward KING

16th October 2019 at 7:38 pm

You’re right about so-called Catalonian ‘independance’. It’s a complete sham. I’m working here temporarily and it can be seen just how out-of-touch the Generalidad (local authority) is. It’s supposed to be a ‘bi-lingual’ region, but more than 95% of official signs are in Catalonian with not a sign of Castilian Spanish, although it’s spoken as a first language by more than 60% of the local population. It has a stranglehold on the educational system which means that students write and express themselves badly in Spanish as it becomes tainted with Catalonian. It also means that school texts are written in the local language which is part of an extremely small (but heavily) subsidised market. It is the reverse situation in ‘Catalunya del Norte’ (sic) i.e. SE France where ‘Occitano’ (mutually inteligible with Catalonian) is spoken but isn’t recognised officially. Being heavily centralised, France does not play truck with regionalisms with French being the language of instruction (as it should be).

Roy Robinson

16th October 2019 at 9:23 am

Should secession be automatically granted to any ethncally distinct region of an existing state which demands it ?Is this democracy when part of a states population can overide the wishes of the majority and secede.?The worlds most powrful democracy fought its most bloody war on its own territory to prevent the secession of its southern states.Of course slavery was as big an issue as secession itself but the North actually went to war with the South in the name of the Union in 1861.It was not till 1863 that Lincoln abolished slavery partly to prevent Britiish and French intervention on behalf of the Confederacy.As far as I know demands for American states such as California to secede could still be viewd as treason.Perhaps we will see in future years.If states such as Britain,Spain Italy ,Canada or even the USA break apart in the name of democracy that will leave the remaining Imperial states Russia,China in a much more powerful global position.This may be one of the many flaws of democracy ponted out by Plato 25 centuries ago and demonstrated many times in the 20th century ie that democracy in the end can be used to destroy democracy

Rap scallion

16th October 2019 at 9:15 am

What’s rather interesting in all this is that the EU are quite happy for Spain to lock up representatives this way because, well, Spanish politicians are in their pocket, they are supplicants to the EU, so nothing is said. A deafening silence in fact. Not quite the same with Poland though is it? Note how the EU berates them and gets involved. Answer? Polish politicians won’t put up with the EU’s games, and so must pay the price of eternal interference

Dave Swift

16th October 2019 at 10:41 pm

When we were a major player in the EU, what games did us Brits play and did we do it alone or plot with the Germans?

I hate to think of people in 27 other countries going online, back in 2015, to alert each other to the fact “The British contingent of the EU are being evil scum once again”.

Stephen J

16th October 2019 at 6:59 am

After years of having to defend my decision to vote to leave the institutions of the EU, I am obviously a glutton for punishment, since I was thinking of buying a little casita in Catalunya to spend some quality time in the sun.

I must be a real dangerous criminal, I welcome the warmth that the sun pervades, and I gravitate towards people who don’t have a high regard for dictatorial centralist mob rule, like that of the EU and its apologists.

Tom Wintringham

16th October 2019 at 12:56 am

The political prisoners need to hire European lawyers to take their case to European courts that they should be released because their imprisonment is unlawful in European law.

There are lots of ways to argue the case in court but I would start with asking for a writ of Habeas Corpus, ordering the Spanish authorities that the political prisoners be brought in person to the European court for consideration of the case their lawyers have to make.

If the Spanish authorities refuse to hand the political prisoners over to the European court then ask that the European judge hold those Spanish officials responsible in contempt and issue a warrant for their arrest to answer for their contempt before the European court.

The appropriate Spanish officials would be the King, the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister of Spain.

Stephen Brown

15th October 2019 at 11:21 pm

There’s an international “treaty on treaties” to which the UK is a signatory. It has an article 51 of its own that says, in short, if the national representative assigned to deal with a treaty is being coerced, the law / stuff coercing him is null and void. The Benn Surrender Act coerces Boris. Therefore, under this Treaty (higher law) to which the UK IS a party, the Benn Act is null and void.

Dominic Straiton

15th October 2019 at 6:12 pm

Corbyn supports the IRA, Hammas, this, that revolution. Momentum and the labour party along with the laughable “liberal democrats” support imperial Brussels.With a star spangled sphinkter flag designed with actual yellow star of Davids . Its beyond parody. The eu has nothing to do with Europe and its soaring contribution to humanity. Its just another broken down, crappy way of trying to control the human spirit. fuck em.

Pedro Dias

15th October 2019 at 6:11 pm

I can’t see any similarity between what happened in Catalunya and Brexit. But there you are… Conspiracy theories are always hilarious. Especially when Catalunya, if independent, would wish to be a part of the European Union… I’m looking forward to reading the articles that will follow with IndyRef2 …

Gareth Edward KING

15th October 2019 at 7:34 pm

Pedro es que esto no es la sustancia de las declaraciones del editor (O’Neil), no ves que no esta hablando de conspiraciones, ni muchísimo menos. Él no apoya a los separatistas catalanes, yo tampoco. Lo que apoyamos en estas páginas es el derecho de organizar a tantos referéndums como nos convienen a nosotros, legales o no. Si los catalanes no están de acuerdo con la constitución, y quieren cambios, que tienen derecho a decir que no. La represión a mansalva por parte del gobierno de Madrid no es la solución y siempre cree más problemas y más resentimiento, o incluso, peor.
La mera idea de que una hipotética Cataluña ‘independiente’ buscará ser otro socio de más de la UUEE es francamente ridículo. Pero, claro esto que es una idea que ha de debatir y dejar claro que no es la solución. y ¿el SPEXIT?

Jim Lawrie

15th October 2019 at 7:57 pm

Since Catalonia wants to insulate itself and its wealth from the rest of Spain, Catalonia in the EU and Spain out would be perfect for them.

Pedro Dias

15th October 2019 at 8:02 pm

I support an independent Catalunya and an independent Pays Basque. These regions are literally paying for people in Extremadura and Andalucia scratch their “cojones” from 1 – 5PM.

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