The growing outrage caused by the dismissal last summer of Spain’s consul to Scotland, Miguel Ángel Vecino, casts doubt over Josep Borrell’s role as Spain’s Foreign Minister —a man who will go to any lengths in order to thwart Catalonia’s independence efforts— and has turned into a diplomatic embarrassment for Madrid.

On Wednesday a Spanish online newspaper, Voz Populi, published an email sent on April 22 by Borrell’s chief of staff, Camilo Villarino, to Spain’s then-consul to Scotland informing him that several foreign career consuls based in Barcelona were being “monitored”.

After his dismissal, Vecino explained that minister Borrell had forced him to follow “unconstitutional orders”, such as preventing a group of Catalan MPs from visiting the Scottish parliament so as not to inconvenience Pedro Sánchez’s government ahead of the elections on April 28. He also stopped members of Edinburgh’s Chamber of Commerce from travelling to Barcelona, as well as a visit to Scotland by representatives of Catalonia’s business community. According to Vecino, he laid all the hurdles on orders from Josep Borrell.

Career consuls

However, new, more worrying details have surfaced since. The e-mail message that was published on Wednesday proves that Pedro Sánchez’s government is not watching just the honorary consuls —he got the Greek consul fired after he attended some pro-independence marches—, but they are also keeping tabs on professional, career consuls. A career consul is a professional sent by their country’s diplomatic service to conduct all consular business under international law in the country of destination. In contrast, an honorary consul is often a citizen of the country of destination whose services are engaged —with a more limited scope— by the country seeking to have some form of representation.

In his e-mail to Vecino Josep Borrell tells the Spanish representative to monitor FM Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to set up a consular association that brings together all foreign diplomatic personnel accredited in Scotland, following in Catalonia’s footsteps. Borrell emphasises that “you must exercise the utmost caution: a similar consular society in Barcelona has been instrumental to the Catalan government’s efforts to sway career and honorary consuls towards the cause of Catalan independence. My ministry has already had to insist that half a dozen consuls be dismissed, so far only honorary appointees; but we are watching some career ones, too”.