SPAIN has become involved in a fresh international row after it withdrew diplomatic status from André Hebbelinck, the Flemish delegate to Madrid.

The decision followed remarks by Jan Peumans, head of the Flemish parliament in the northern Belgium region, which Spain felt was disparaging about its conflict with Catalonia.

In particular, they complained about remarks concerning the nine imprisoned pro-independence figures, who are widely referred to as political prisoners.

READ MORE: Catalan detentions doubt as judge says proving violent crime difficult

Peumans said in a radio interview: “We live in a democracy and I say in my country what I think I have to say.”

He added that his parliament cold not tolerate political prisoners: “It is indignant to a rule of law.”

In a separate interview, Flemish president Geert Bourgeois hit back at what he described as a hostile act, saying the withdrawal of diplomatic status from Hebbelinck was “unprecedented in the history of the EU … a very unfriendly act”.

Peumans has made several statements since last year about Catalonia and the political prisoners which have upset firstly Mariano Rajoy’s government and now that of socialist leader and prime minister Pedro Sánchez.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, who was born in Catalonia but is fiercely unionist, said yesterday that Spain is living in “diplomatic conflict” with Flanders and, in turn Belgium.

He told reporters: “It is already a diplomatic conflict, we will not bring importance to things.

“Spain cannot afford that, again and again, the president of a parliament says that we are a country that must be expelled from the European Union.”

And he confirmed that the Spanish government would not certify as a diplomat anyone else from the Flemish government.

Borrell added: “If tomorrow they present another representative we will not give him either.”

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in exile in Belgium, said the move was typical of the Spanish government.

He wrote on social media: “The Spanish government withdraws diplomatic status to the delegate of Belgium to the views of the president of the Flemish parliament on support for political prisoners. Do what they have always done: repress the freedom of opinion and punish an entire people to not have diplomatic delegate. What error.”

READ MORE: Catalan independence question is 'more alive than ever'

The row simmered as a crowdfunding appeal was launched in Scotland to raise £1000 for the football team CD Borgonya, a small Catalan town which has had close links to Paisley and St Mirren FC since the late 19th century when the Coats family invested in and developed a mill there.

Known as the Catalan Buddies, the team – which plays in St Mirren’s black and white stripes and has a Saltire on the back of its shirt – has been unable to play since their pitch was damaged by flooding earlier this week.

Kenny Steele, who launched the fundraiser three days ago, said: “I had the pleasure of visiting the town with my wife and son, and we were fortunate to take in the game against Voltrega CF.

“The ground is in an idyllic setting, surrounded by hills and trees and the River Ter flowing past.

“Sadly, the area was hit by a bad storm on the evening of October 14, and the ground the its clubhouse suffered devastating damage.

“Can we as fellow Buds help in getting Borgonya playing again?”

By last night the fellow Buddies had indeed responded and the crowdfunder – at – had raised more than 75% of its £1000 target.