EXILED former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers who fled to avoid charges including rebellion and sedition brought by Spain, may have to wait up to 30 years to return to the country, according to Catalonia’s Vice President and deputy speaker.

However, Josep Costa said they could be welcomed back to Catalonia much sooner, if it were to achieve independence.

“I really think they are likely to be ready to return when we are independent,” he said. “If we stick to the charges that they face we know that they would have to wait for 20 or 30 years before they could come back to Spain.

“Alternatively they will be able to come back to Catalonia before being able to return to Spain – that means Catalonia will have to be independent and that will have to happen before their charges or prosecution are dropped.”

Costa was speaking exclusively to The National ahead of an address to Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Catalonia, in which he delivered a perspective on the continuing conflict between Spain and the affluent north-eastern state.

Pro-independence politicians and cultural figures have been in jail for more than a year, with their trials expected to start later this month. Among them is former vice president Oriol Junqueras, who said earlier this week that he expected to be sentenced to a prison term – a sentiment with which Costa agreed: “We’ve said for a long time that the sentence is already written and the indictment that the prosecutor filed a few weeks ago was effectively the same as what was registered more than a year ago as a complaint, so the defence is rejected almost entirely. The prosecution has built the case that we expected – there’s not much room for surprise.”

Much has been said and written about the continuing silence of European leaders in the face of allegations of blatant human rights abuses, including the National Police violence against people trying to vote in the October 2017 referendum.

Costa said that silence did not surprise him: “I think the status quo is something that European leaders are very keen on maintaining and anything that can threaten the status quo is seen as suspicious, so I think that’s the starting point.

“On the other hand we didn’t ask for anything in the sense that we didn’t take the first steps to becoming an independent state beyond declaring the intention to be such, so in reality part of the burden is on our side to make progress with that before we can gain any support.

“I think we got a lot of sympathy, but from sympathy to support we need to work inside Catalonia to be more prepared and ready for actually becoming a de facto independent country before we can get any real support.”

Costa said the recently-launched Council for the Republic would aim to improve Catalonia’s political infrastructure and international presence in preparation for independence, but he said the movement would remain non-violent.

“The Catalan independence movement has always been non-violent in nature and it will remain so.

“I think we have been extremely effective by sticking to that strategy and we may discuss the intensity of mobilisation that’s needed, but not the nature of it.”