BASQUE leader Inigo Urkullu has given his public support for the Catalan politicians and pro-independence activists who are in pre-trial detention – and has said they should be freed.

He was speaking at his official residence after a meeting with Catalan President Quim Torra, their first since Torra became the head of Catalonia’s autonomous government.

At a joint press conference, Urkullu described the prisoners’ situation as “unfair”.

“I have transmitted solidarity with the jailed Catalan representatives,” he said.

“The provisional prison does not have any humanitarian or political sense, and I reiterate that they are released.

“Catalonia and the Basque Country are two unique communities, and the application of [Article] 155 is a precedent that disregards and puts self-government at risk,” he added, referring to the direct rule that Spain imposed on Catalonia following its declaration of independence in October last year.

Urkullu also backed Torra’s previous calls to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to allow an agreed referendum on self-determination.

However, he said such a vote should consider more than simply independence.

Sanchez has dismissed the possibility of an independence poll and has expressed a preference for asking citizens about “self-government”.

He appears to be amenable to strengthening Catalonia’s statute of autonomy – not unlike the much-heralded Devo Max that Scotland became familiar with during the 2014 referendum.

Torra, however, rejected such a move, and repeated his call for self-determination. He also sought a “bilateral meeting” between the Catalan and Spanish governments when Sanchez and his ministers hold a cabinet meeting in Barcelona next month.

“The release of prisoners, the return of exiles and self-determination”, are top of Torra’s agenda, but he admitted: “Until now all the government of Spain have had the same response and … the state has called for 200 years in prison for prisoners.”

Sanchez had to rely on support from Basque and Catalan politicians to unseat his predecessor Mariano Rajoy and still needs their backing for legislative measures, such as the budget he is currently trying to sell.

Urkullu urged Torra to take advantage of that position to find a “political solution” with Spain.

Relations between the Basque Country and Catalonia had cooled after Urkullu became something of a bridge between the Spanish and Catalan governments during the indyref, when he tried to dissuade Spain from imposing direct rule and Carles Puigdemont from declaring independence – both in vain.

While yesterday’s meeting illustrated their common views on subjects such as the Catalan prisoners, it also served to highlight their continuing differences, especially concerning Torra’s approach to self-determination.

Urkullu said the Basque government and his Basque Nationalist Party (PNB) could act as a Spanish-Catalan go-between, adding: “The political and social situation demands the creation of a space of distension. And I know that this is the will of the government of Spain.”