Will Brexit bring immunity for wanted Catalan separtist in exile in Scotland?

Catalan separatist Clara Ponsati has not set foot in her native Barcelona for two years for fear of the Spanish authorities. But her circumstances could be about to change thanks to Brexit.

Will Brexit bring immunity for wanted Catalan separtist in exile in Scotland?
Clara Ponsati is facing extradition from Scotland to Spain to face charges of sedition. Photo: AFP

The former education minister in the Catalan regional government of CarlesPuigdemont is wanted in Spain for alleged sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid.

An economics professor at St Andrews University in Scotland, her extradition case in being heard at the courts in Edinburgh.

But once Britain leaves the European Union on Friday, she will automatically become a member of the European Parliament — something she believes will give her immunity from extradition.

After Brexit, additional MEPs elected in the remaining member states will be installed to fill empty seats left behind by the outgoing British deputies.   

Following the May 2019 European Parliament elections, Ponsati is due to take one of the five seats reallocated to Spain, as an incoming MEP for the Together for Catalonia party.

Once Ponsati joins the European legislature, the 62-year-old hopes to benefit from immunity, as Puigdemont and a former Catalonia health minister Toni Comin already do as MEPs.

“Once I become an MEP, I get immunity from prosecution — and that means that the Spanish justice should withdraw the order of arrest against me,” Ponsati told AFP at her home in the small Scottish town of Leuchars.

“I should be free to walk in Barcelona without being threatened with arrest.”

Clara Ponsati smiles as her lawyer Aamer Anwar (C) reads a statement outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court in November . Photo: AFP

May court date

However, Ponsati knows that the Spanish authorities may not give in so easily.

Madrid has not withdrawn the arrest warrants issued for Puigdemont and Comin.   

The Belgian judge who examined their extradition requests decided to suspend them when they became MEPs, meaning they can freely move around Europe – although, as a precaution, they do not return to Spain.

Ponsati believes the Scottish courts will be sensitive to her case.   

“It's for the Scottish judges to decide what the implications of my MEP status are. I totally trust justice in Scotland,” she said.

Furthermore, with Brexit, the European Arrest Warrant could lose its validity in the United Kingdom and have to be replaced by an international extradition request, starting a complex process which Ponsati could claim was politically motivated.

“The fact that Spain is not respecting European law certainly has an effect on how external judges see the way Spanish justices are managing the conflict in Catalonia,” she said.   

After voluntarily going to the Scottish police in November, Ponsati was released on bail.

Her extradition case is due to begin on May 11th, following a preliminary hearing on March 5th which could decide on her immunity claim, as she will be an MEP by then.

She has raised more than £166,000 ($217,000, 197,000 euros) in online donations towards her legal costs.

Championing self-determination

“I do expect to be sitting in the European Parliament in a couple of weeks,” Ponsati said, but she does not intend to settle in Brussels or Strasbourg straight away.

“I have a case in Edinburgh that I need to attend. I intend to obey the orders of the Scottish justice,” she said.

“At the same time, I have very strong links with Scotland, so my intention is to remain a resident of Scotland,” she added.

Ponsati had been working in the St Andrews economics department before becoming Catalonia's education minister.   

Once in the European Parliament, she wants to be “championing the cause of self-determination in Europe”.

Ponsati wants to defend the Catalan culture and language, but also “champion the case of Scotland in the European Union”.

As part of the UK, Scotland will be leaving the EU, though a majority within Scotland wanted Britain to remain in the bloc.

At the Spanish authorities' request, the European Parliament is considering whether to lift the immunity on Puigdemont and Comin — a process Ponsati would also become involved in.

“It's a matter of what majorities support what, and we cannot anticipate how things will go,” she said.

“I'm expecting the president of the European Parliament to defend the rights of the people that voted for me.”

By AFP's Stuart Graham and Anna Cuenca 

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance.

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you a British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain