FRESH talks began yesterday between the Catalan and Spanish governments aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the former’s independence aspirations and the latter’s refusal to countenance a referendum.

Pere Aragones, the Catalan ­president and Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met alone for almost two hours before the negotiations started, but Sanchez was quick to rule out an indyref.

He told journalists: “What has to do with Spain must be decided by all Spaniards and not just a part … ­Politics has other deadlines. We will need time, but it is true that we are better off than years ago.

“I can guarantee that it seems ­common sense to me to work ­without haste, but without pause. For us amnesty [for those criminalised over indy] and the referendum are not a proposal. For me the proposal is the agenda of the reunion.” Sanchez said he had the will to resolve the ­crisis, despite the Catalan delegation’s ­preferred option of a Scotland-like ­indyref accepted by Spain and the amnesty, including the return of former president Carles Puigdemont from exile in Belgium.

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Aragones admitted that their starting positions were very different, but said now was the time to “build trust”.

He said: “We defend that the referendum and the amnesty are the solution. Therefore, let us work together.

“It is important that we recover the alliances that have made us strong, between parties and between institutions and citizens.

“I have put on the table what our position is. It is clear and you already know it. On the one hand, the amnesty and, on the other, the referendum.

“We are convinced that the solution must be democratic. Catalonia is a fully democratic society and we will not understand any solution in other terms.

“The political future of Catalonia cannot be decided by imposition above the majority or by the denial of the problems we have. Pardons have been a step. But the criminalisation of the independence movement has not stopped.”

He added: “There are proposals on how to make a referendum possible within the constitutional framework.”

Expectations were low for any huge advances from the meeting, which caused a rift within the indy camp. Aragones and his Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party called the talks a “historic opportunity”, but leaders of Together for Catalonia (Junts), the junior party in his coalition government did not attend the meeting and have voiced their doubts over its value.

The influential grassroots group the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) said that the talks would only serve to derail their cause.

Jordi Sanchez, the former ANC president, was due to attend the negotiations, but Aragones omitted him and other nominees who were not in his cabinet.

The last meeting between the two sides took place in 2020 before the pandemic struck, but politics have changed in Catalonia – with the ERC leadership prioritising dialogue and Junts preferring direct action, such as that which led to the 2017 indyref and saw the Catalan government plunged into chaos as Spain imposed direct rule.

Spanish Minister Miquel Iceta, former head of the Catalan Socialist party, said earlier this week that if the negotiations revolved exclusively around indyref and amnesty, “they will be short and unsuccessful”.