SPAIN’S highest court has ordered the suspension of plans by Catalonia’s regional government for a referendum on the region’s secession from the rest of the country, writes Greg Russell.

The ruling is the latest move in the legal battle between central government and the Catalan National Assembly, which has plans to embark on an 18-month roadmap to independence.

This is not the first time the Constitutional Court has thwarted Catalan plans – it blocked a previous attempt to hold a referendum in 2014 and the speaker of its parliament has been called to court to explain why she allowed a debate on a referendum this year.

The court said it ordered this suspension while it studied a legal challenge to the referendum by the Spanish government.

Catalonia says it will hold a poll by next September and the court’s latest ruling would not alter those plans.

The Madrid government says neither secession nor a referendum is permitted under the country’s constitution.

Opinion polls consistently show that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are equally divided on breaking from Spain.

A spokesperson for the Catalan Embassy in London told The National the court ruling would change nothing. “We have a commitment to the citizens and to the democratic mandate that we have to meet,” they said. “Nothing changes, we will proceed with the roadmap.

“The summit for the Referendum on December 23 will be held because it is not part of the decision that has been challenged.”

Tensions have been running high in Catalonia after the speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, was called to appear before the Supreme Court tomorrow, to explain why she authorised a debate on the indy roadmap last July. The court told her and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont they had a duty to “stop or paralyse” any moves to circumvent the suspension or face the consequences, “including at a penal level”.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government had asked the court to stall any separatist push by Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest regions and home to about a sixth of the population.

The court suspended the resolution, which was approved by the Catalan Assembly in October, for five months from now. After that it could be made permanent or lifted.

Puigdemont has said in the past that he will hold a referendum next year with or without Madrid’s consent.

Catalan Foreign Affairs Minister Raul Romeva previously told The National it was up to the assembly to give the people what they had voted for.

He said: “The Parliament, as the symbol of the Catalan people’s sovereignty, has approved the conclusions of the work that has been carried out by a special parliamentary committee over the last six months, in accordance with the democratic mandate given to the pro-independence parties who won a majority in Catalonia’s elections last September.”