SPANISH Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has warned that he would be prepared to reimpose direct rule on Catalonia if its devolved government declared independence.

His predecessor Mariano Rajoy took the so-called “nuclear option” of using Article 155 of the country’s constitution following the declaration of Catalan independence in October 2017.

This effectively suspended the devolution of powers and sacked then president Carles Puigdemont and his government.

Sanchez ousted Rajoy last June, but only with the support of pro-indy MPs from Catalonia and shortly afterwards lifted the sanction.

However, in an interview with the Catalan daily El Periodico, he said: “Both the independence movement and the right [wing parties] know that independence will not happen.”

Sanchez said the rejection of his budgets after Catalan MPs refused to pass them – which triggered his call for a snap election, had shown that “the independence movement rules against Catalonia” and “has put a referendum for independence before any other consideration”.

He said: “I believe that the conflict does have a solution, because Catalonia needs the same thing as Spain: moderation, stability and dialogue.

“The democratic and legal state has shown that it has sufficient elements in its constitution to restore any unilateral bankruptcy of the

constitutional and statutory framework. Those who raise unilateralism should explain to their citizens why they do it.”

Sanchez added: “Yes, we are talking about [Article] 155, a perfectly legitimate instrument, constitutional and comparable to other democracies similar to ours.

“If the [Catalan Government] Generalitat returns to unilateralism, the government of Spain will act with serenity, calmness and proportionality.

“But that is not in our mind, but just the opposite.

“We want to heal the wounds, not delve into them as the independence movement does, and also the right, with its proposal of a permanent and without consensus, which would involve the questioning of our autonomous state.”

Sanchez said his main challenge was to recover trust and loyalty between his own and the Catalan governments.

He added: “There is no government that wants to confront the Generalitat, but rather attempts to activate the mechanisms of collaboration and seek a solution.

“This will not come in the short term, perhaps in the middle, and you will need a lot of trust, loyalty, dialogue, generosity and a sense of state.

“But neither the right [wing] nor the independence movement want to help solve this problem.”

Meanwhile, the row over the banning of yellow (or white) ribbons, or banners on public buildings in support of the political prisoners who are on trial in Madrid, has taken on another hue – blue.

Spain’s Electoral Board (JEC) ordered Quim Torra, the Catalan president, and local authorities to remove them from public buildings in the run-up to the April 28 election, because partisan symbols are not permitted.

The yellow ribbons were substituted for white symbols and banners displaying them, to which the JEC also took exception.

However, councils around Catalonia have been continuing their quest to find novel ways to get around the order.

One council in Sant Fruitos de Bages removed its yellow ribbon, but replaced it with a banner that read defiantly: “We have taken down what was approved by 85% of the municipal chamber.”

Others have tried substituting the ribbons with posters featuring Fairy washing-up liquid bottles, accompanied by the message: “You get my meaning.”

Fairy was extensively cited during evidence at the indyref trial as a weapon used by voters to make things slippery underfoot for Civil Guard officers who were trying to stop the October 2017 poll, and pictures of Fairy bottles went viral on social media afterwards.

Some authorities, though, have replaced their banners with others which mock the absurdity of the whole matter.

Local people in the Port de la Selva council area replaced a yellow ribbon banner with one featuring a blue banner, along with the message: “Freedom for peaceful fish.”

But the JEC was not amused and ordered it to be removed, describing it as a “grotesque attempt at mockery”.

Locals asked the council to remove the banner rather than face the legal consequences, but it was hung up on a building nearby.