Bon dia, good morning everyone.
I am Isabel-Helena Martí, president of Sobirania i Justícia (Sovereignty & Justice – S&J). It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you all.
Andrew Rosindell, thank you very much for accepting our invitation to come and talk. We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the issue we will be discussing today: “Catalonia and Europe after Brexit. Challanges and opportunities”.
Senator Laura Castel; Marina Falcó, former Director General of Foreign Affairs, deposed by art. 155; Isidre Sala, Director General for Multilateral and European Affairs; Laura Foraster, former Executive Director of Diplocat, Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, deposed by art. 155; Francesca Guardiola, former Delegate to Denmark, deposed by art. 155; Martí Anglada, former Delegate to France and Switzerland, deposed by art. 155.
Antoni Segura, president of the CIDOB, Barcelona Center for International Affairs, thank you for being here today and for letting us use this wonderful room.
It was on June, the 23rd of 2016 – almost two years ago – when Prime Minister David Cameron called upon the citizens of the United Kingdom to decide whether their country should or should not remain a member of the European Union. The result, you already know. The British electorate was split almost exactly in half with a slight majority tipping the balance. 52% voted in favour of Brexit. The rest, 48%, against. British society was divided almost in half but the UK, which is a country with a long and strong democratic culture, accepted the outcome of the polls, in spite of the narrow majority.
European societies of the 21st century are immensely pluralistic. Today this diversity is considered an asset which must be preserved. Tolerance and the liberal nature of our democratically mature societies encourage this and make it possible. When a democratic political community must take a decision, make a choice between two or more options, a referendum works as a useful mechanism which guarantees that everyone can express themselves freely and on equal terms.
That is why we feel saddened, terribly saddened. The Spanish political institutions, and among them the Spanish government, refuse to allow Catalonia a referendum for self-determination and, by so doing, deny us our political voice. They use an extremely undemocratic, regressive, and hypocritical argument to justify it. They claim that having to choose one option, out of two, would split Catalonia in half, despite the fact that opinion polls, in a consistent manner, tell us that there is a huge majority, over 80% of Catalan citizens, whether in favour of independence or not, that want to resolve the dispute of Catalan political future through a referendum, like Scotland did in September 2014.
My question to you all is, are we aware of the impact Brexit will have on Catalonia? Not only economic, but also political.
The economic relations between Catalonia and the United Kingdom are relevant, and not just in the field of tourism. The Catalan-British trade balance favours Catalonia and it is very much in our interests to find an accord between the EU and UK customs agreements in order to preserve trade links and facilitate the flow of goods, services, capital, and also, -despite British reluctance – people.
Brexit also poses stiff political challanges. The revival of feelings for Scottish independence, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar. Those are all ongoing issues whose resolution may establish precedents, favorable or not, for the Catalan case. There is so much at stake for Catalonia!
Lots of work to be done, but there is not much time available. Deadline is looming ahead: March 2019 (with an extended transition period until December 2020). Tough! But, regardless how important challenges seem, supporters claim Brexit opens up multiple and good opportunities, too.
Andrew Rosindell, how eager we are to hear your presentation! Let Josep Suarez, former Delegate of the Catalan Government in the UK & Ireland and a member of the board of S&J, introduce you first.
Thank you again for being here.