Spain raises the stakes in a showdown with Catalonia, threatening to strip the region of its autonomy status if Catalan leaders press ahead with a secession bid.
The threat by Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala came after the Catalan government vowed to move forward with the independence process.
On Wednesday, Spain’s constitutional court suspended the Catalan law towards independence and threatened regional lawmakers with criminal charges.
The Catalan government shot back, stating that the regional legislation was still in effect.
The pledge prompted Justice Minister Catala to take Spain’s threat a step further and invoke Article 155 of the country’s constitution, which entails suspension of the autonomy granted to Catalonia.
Asked whether Madrid would apply the law, the justice minister said he did not "rule it out."
The Spanish government is dealing with the Catalonia issue with "prudence, moderation and proportionality," he said in a veiled warning.
Catalan leaders say they were given a mandate by their people to form an independent state after winning a majority in September’s regional election.
The Catalan state was officially abolished in 1714 and became one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. But calls for full independent has grown among many Catalans who believe they would be more prosperous on their own.
They are complaining that a high portion of their taxes goes to the central government in Madrid. The region is currently paying Madrid around 16 billion euros a year more in taxes than it gets back from the central government.
As a result, Catalonia owes around 40 billion euros in debt, which has forced regional authorities to introduce spending cuts in healthcare and education.
Catalonia, however, accounts for one-fifth of Spain’s economic output and its bid to break away is fiercely opposed by Madrid.
On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lashed out at the secession bid by the Catalans, saying, “This is a blatant disregard for the state’s institutions.”
“They are trying to eliminate national sovereignty, to take away from Spaniards and many in Catalonia the right to decide what the country is, that does not happen in any country in the world and less so in the 21st century,” he said.