Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has compared Brexit to the failed push for Catalan independence, warning that “engaging in campaigns or political projects based on lies eventually leads societies down a blind alley”.
Renewing his appeal for the UK to accept the EU’s withdrawal deal, Sánchez said he saw clear parallels between the rhetoric that drove the Brexit debate and the arguments used in the regional independence campaign that plunged Spain into its worst crisis in four decades.
“The techniques of the Catalan independence movement are very similar to those of [Nigel] Farage and other ultra-conservative leaders who have defended Brexit,” he said.
“They say, ‘Europe’s stealing from us!’, or ‘Spain is stealing from us!’, or, ‘If we had more economic resources …’. At the end of the day, I think that engaging in campaigns or political projects based on lies eventually leads societies down a blind alley and that’s really hard to manage.”
Sánchez said lessons needed to be learned from Brexit – not least how internal differences in a single political party can swell into “a global problem”.
In a joint interview with the Guardian, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and La Repubblica, the socialist premier said democracy “isn’t just heads or tails” and that Brexit should never have been presented as a binary issue.
“It’s not ‘Do I leave or do I stay?’ Maybe the question that should have been asked was, ‘Do you want to stay in a better Europe?’, because there are certainly lots of things that need to change in Europe.”
Although Sánchez said he had been struck by the generation gap evident in the anti-Brexit demonstrations – “young people are in favour of remaining and they’re the future of the UK” – he said he hoped MPs would ensure the UK’s exit was as managed and painless as possible.
“I think the message to send is that this is the only possible and viable deal,” he said.
“The UK parliament is facing a dilemma that will require all its MPs to act responsibly to avoid a hard, disorderly Brexit. The possibility of an orderly Brexit still exists and that’s the appeal I’m making to British MPs.”
Sánchez added that while Spain and the UK have had disagreements – particularly over Gibraltar – he and Theresa May had maintained “a very close relationship” and were intent on protecting the rights of Spaniards in the UK and Britons in Spain.