The Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, has said his government will respond in a “firm and forceful” way if Catalonia breaks the Spanish legal framework. In a plenary session of the Congress convened on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Catalonia, and also Brexit, Sánchez said he will send Spanish police officers to Catalonia should Catalan law enforcement continue in “failing to perform its functions.”

Sánchez made his remarks after groups of pro-independence activists cut some highways in Catalonia this weekend, while officers did not restrain them –something Madrid has criticized and for which the prosecutor is investigating the Catalan police.

Comparing independence with Brexit

During his almost hour-long speech, Sánchez compared the independence movement in Catalonia with Brexit several times. “Both walk on parallel roads with similar discourses, an account of invented grievances amplified by the manipulation of forcing citizens to choose between being European or not, between being Spanish or Catalan” he claimed. Both, according to the Spanish president, are based on “lies” and aim to “polarize” society and bring it “face-to-face.”

He also said that despite the demonstrations expected, he will go ahead with meeting his cabinet on December 21 in Barcelona.

Sánchez also criticized Torra’s comments advocating the Slovenian path to independence. “Supporting the Kosovar or Slovenian way shows an ignorance of history and is unacceptable manipulation” he said. According to the Spanish leader, Torra’s remarks show the “desperation of someone who has no other argument than lying to support his political stances.”

People’s Party: more direct rule to finish with “coup d’etat”

The debate on Catalonia in Madrid also included speeches from the Spanish opposition. The People’s Party (PP) leader, Pablo Casado, said Pedro Sánchez had not announced “any” measure to deal with the independence movement and he urged him to impose direct rule on Catalonia again.

Casado called the jailed political leaders “members of a coup d’etat” and compared some incidents involving activists with Nazi Germany. For the PP leader, Sánchez is doing “nothing” because he needs the votes of the pro-independence parties to pass his 2019 budget and continue in government.

Podemos: pre-trial jail is an “indecent exceptionality”

Meanwhile, the left-wing Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, called for moderation and dialogue from both sides. For him, there is an “inflammatory context” and he claimed that Torra’s comments on Slovenia were an impulse and said that no pro-independence supporter wants violence and war.

On the other hand, he called for the Spanish president not to “inflame Catalonia” and also said that the precautionary detention for nine political leaders is an “indecent exceptionality.”

Ciutadans: direct rule and fresh election in Spain

Like the PP head, the leader of the unionist Ciutadans party, Albert Rivera, urged the Socialist president to impose direct rule. He also expressed alarm at the actions of groups of activists in the country, mentioning the recent cutting of highways and protests in the high-speed train station in Girona.

Rivera was critical that so far the Spanish government has also sent letters asking about the Catalan police position towards these activists. “Torra is trembling, and after the letter, he and the police will absolutely follow the Constitution, and the president will swear on the flag” he said with irony.