Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Spain's ruling Socialists will "never" allow an independence referendum in Catalonia, days after his government pardoned a number of jailed leaders who were convicted over the region's failed independence bid in 2017.
"There will be no referendum on self-determination," Sanchez told lawmakers at a parliament session on Tuesday, stressing his Socialist party would "never accept this type of deviation."
The premier further explained that the only way to hold such a vote would be for supporters to convince three-fifths of the lower house to modify the Spanish constitution, and for Spain as a whole to ratify this change via a referendum.
This would currently be impossible as the three biggest political groupings in the lower house are opposed to such a reform.
Nine Catalan political leaders were recently freed from jail for their part in the northeastern region's failed push for independence. Sanchez's recent decision has been fiercely criticized by the conservative opposition.
Sanchez has also for the first time officially met with Catalonia's new regional President Pere Aragones.
The Catalan leader during a press briefing with foreign reporters in Madrid on Wednesday complained that the national government had "so far made no proposals."
"There has to be a referendum, otherwise the conflict will continue."
Aragones welcomed Sanchez's plans to give the regional government more powers but noted that it "won't be enough to resolve the basic political conflict."
In 2017, Catalonia's regional government announced that 90 percent of those who participated in an independence referendum banned by Spain’s central government choose to be separated from the country.
In order to halt the vote, Madrid increased pressure on Catalan officials and it also deployed thousands of extra police from across the country to Catalonia.
Since then, Catalonia has been a mainstay issue within the Spanish politics.
Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, held a symbolic referendum in November 2014, during which more than 80 percent of participants voted for independence, according to Catalan officials.
Catalonia's bid to break away from Spain provoked one of the worst political crises there since the end of Francisco Franco's military dictatorship in 1975.