For the third time in less than four years, Spain will hold a general election after the country’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for a snap vote on April 28 after Catalan separatists joined with centre-right parties to reject the Spanish national budget.
Sánchez’ inability to find room to manoeuvre after the rebel Catalans abandoned their traditional, ideological ally – the leftist PSOE, or Socialist Party.
“Between doing nothing and continuing without the budget and calling on Spaniards to have their say, I chose the second. Spain needs to keep advancing, progressing with tolerance, respect, moderation, and common sense,” said Sánchez on February 15 when announcing his decision to hold early elections, adding, “I have proposed to dissolve parliament and call elections for April 28.”
Sánchez and the PSOE, who have only been in power since June 2018, hold just 84 of the 350 seats in the Cortes, Spain’s . The PSOE’s lack of seats in the current government forced Sánchez to relied on the support of Basque and Catalan separatists.
Support from Catalonia vanished once the pro-secessionist Catalan Republican Left and Catalan European Democratic parties broke with the PSOE to reject the Socialists’ budget proposal. In a highly unusual turn, the Catalan separatists voted with their bitter political enemies, the conservative Partido Popular, which led to a 191-158 defeat of Sánchez budget initiative.
Gibraltar, Brexit and the future of Sánchez and May’s negotiations
Spain now finds itself entering into an unprecedented electoral period as Brexit will occur almost exactly one month before the Spanish public heads to the polls to decide Sánchez’ fate.
The Brexit issue will play a major role in the lead-up to the April 28 vote in Spain. The issue over the status of Gibraltar has already strained relations between London and Madrid after Sánchez, himself, attempted to pressure British Prime Minister Theresa May over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit status last November
With Spain threatening to veto the now-shelved Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that was rejected by the British House of Commons in January, May was forced to write a letter conceding that Gibraltar relationship with the UK will be negotiated bilaterally and will not necessarily be covered by a future EU-UK trade agreement.
May is still relying on Spain’s support as she tries to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations with Brussels, which has thus far refused to enter into any more talks over the future relationship between the UK and EU.
Spain’s support will also be vital to May’s chances of getting an extension from the EU-27 that would see the Brexit date pushed back beyond the original March 29 deadline that has been in place for nearly three years.
Any new negotiations would, however, complicate matters for Spain and could allow Madrid to put additional demands on the table if it appears that Sánchez will no longer serve as prime minister.