A LEADING Catalan official has said Catalonia is in a de facto state of emergency and that its battle with Spain’s central government to hold a referendum on independence is a “big problem for Europe”.

In an exclusive interview, Sergi Marcen, head of the Catalan Delegation to the UK, told The National the Catalan Government would work “to the last minute” to try to reach agreement with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government to go ahead with the October 1 poll.

He said he believed Europe had remained quiet because Rajoy’s Parti Populaire (People’s Party) wielded significant influence and had been pressurising countries to stay out of it.

But he added: “It is a European problem because 7.5 million European people – Catalans – cannot vote on their future; the Spanish Government does not have a majority in parliament and are using the laws in a bad way and this kind of behaviour is like the times of the dictator Franco.

“So it’s a big problem for Europe, not only Catalonia.”

Spain’s actions, he said, were denying Catalan citizens their basic rights. “Spanish Government and the police are going into media offices, lawyers, people’s houses looking for ballots,” he said. “Freedom of expression is banned. Police are seizing Catalan flags, posters or anything related to the referendum. Public events and meetings about it have been banned, so we don’t have the right to speak in public about the right of self-determination in Catalonia.

“The Spanish Government is using prosecutors and the police and is not respecting the basic human right of freedom of space and demonstration so. They are using Spain’s laws to create this state of emergency without a state of emergency [being declared].”

He added: “More than 13,000 police have arrived from the rest of Spain to Catalonia. Catalan police say 17,000 officers are being used to stop people expressing themselves and voting on October 1.”

Josep-Lluís Trapero, head of the Catalan police Mossos d’Esquadra, who is seen as a local hero because of his handling of the Barcelona terror attacks, has refused a Spanish public prosecutor’s order to hand over control of his force to Civil Guard Colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos.

Pérez de los Cobos was previously prosecuted and acquitted of allegedly mistreating a prisoner belonging to the Basque separatist group ETA.

His brother Francisco was president of the Constitutional Court when it declared unconstitutional the 2014 unofficial Catalan indyref.

Their father was previously a candidate for a far-right political party in Spanish Congress elections.

“Rajoy’s choice of police chief is an example of the kind of people they are sending to Catalonia,” said Marcen. “Everything the Spanish Government is doing makes no sense.

“From the Catalan side we are trying to write an agreement and we will work until the last second before October 1 to write an agreement with the Spanish Government to hold the referendum. But on the other side, there is no-one.”

Marcen added: “Without your voice a lot of people would never understand what’s happening in Catalonia. We haven’t stolen anything or killed anyone, we just want to vote to let people decide what they want.

“We are defending people’s democracy. Spain’s actions are dangerous for a democratic state and the European Union.”