Spain's Congress of Deputies exploded into angry recriminations on Wednesday afternoon after a Vox deputy, Carla Toscano, launched an attack on the minister of equality, Irene Montero (Podemos), over the so-called 'only yes means yes' law. Toscano asserted that the minister's only merit is "having studied Pablo Iglesias in depth", in reference to her partner, who was the founder of Podemos.
As the Spanish budget debate dealt with the ministry of equality's proposed spending, Toscano railed against Irene Montero's criticism of the court rulings that have reduced sentences following the application of the new Law of Sexual Freedom. The Vox MP said that you would have to have a face of "reinforced cement" to call the judiciary sexist when the minister's "only merit" is "having studied Pablo Iglesias in depth".
These references by the far-right party representative to Montero's personal life prompted indignation in the Unidas Podemos ranks. The alternative left MPs began chanting "shame, shame" and "no means no", while the Podemos co-spokesperson and member of the Bureau of Congress, Javier Sánchez Serna, could be seen confronting the Vox deputy, who was two metres from the tribune watching the dispute in the chamber.
In the ranks of other parties such as the PSOE, ERC, and Ciudadanos, deputies looked stone-faced or astonished while the members from Vox took to their feet to applaud and laugh. The Vox leader, Santiago Abascal, was not in the chamber. Nor was the spokesperson Iván Espinosa de los Monteros or Javier Ortega Smith.
Exchange of heckling between Vox and Unidas Podemos MPs
"Freedom, freedom", shouted the Vox deputies. "The freedom to insult is what you want", retorted those of Unidas Podemos. The acting speaker for the session, the Socialist deputy Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, chose to let the deputies express themselves for a few minutes and then intervened to call Carla Toscano to order and announce that her expression would be removed from the parliamentary record.
Montero then asked for the floor to demand that nothing be removed from the record and thus for the "political violence" in the seat of popular sovereignty to be recorded, along with "those who carry it out". "So that after me, it won't affect anyone else", stressed Montero, visibly moved. She then promised that feminists and democrats would stop "this band of fascists" by adding "more rights". Montero's response prompted applause from Unidas Podemos, PSOE, ERC, Bildu and other parties whose members got to their feet.
Irene Montero stated that she accepts criticism, but never insults, and also acknowledged that the attacks had affected her personally. In statements this Thursday on radio station RAC1, she expressed thanks for the support she had received, but affirmed that for someone to cross the line as happened on Wednesday, with "other political leaders have previously" gone in "the same line", referring to the speech of a Ciudadanos municipal councillor in Zaragoza the day before, who had asserted that "she is where she is because she has been impregnated by an alpha male", speaking of Iglesias. In this regard, she also recalled that from the PP, such expressions have been heard many times against herself and fellow Podemos minister Ione Belarra. The minister declared that political leaders must not "even come close to the personal destruction of the political opponent". Despite the intolerable situation she had experienced on Wednesday afternoon, Montero made it clear that she would not resign, but rather, after the controversy over the new law, that she would accept the responsibility as required.
The words of the Vox deputy provoked the indignation of politicians from different parties both in Spain and internationally, who showed their support for the minister Irene Montero for what were seen as blatantly unjustified attacks.
Pablo Iglesias showed his support for Montero in two tweets. First he referred to the minister's speech in which she warned Vox deputies "that feminists and democrats will stop this gang of fascists with more rights", with regard to which Iglesias said "This is how you talk to fascists. Well done". In the second tweet, the former leader of Unidas Podemos celebrated that the entire left had closed ranks with Montero after the media and political violence to which she had been subjected. "But it shouldn't just be a question of decency and loyalty to a colleague, but the political conviction that facing the fascists means standing beside Irene and with feminism."
The Spanish social rights minister Ione Belarra, a personal friend of Montero, also offered her full support: "You are an example, comrade. You are huge and you are making history. By your side always," she wrote on Twitter.
The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, sent a message of support to Montero via Twitter stating that "we are together against male violence". "Denying it is a form of exercising it. Bringing it to the lectern of Congress is crossing a line that is intolerable."
The ERC spokesman in Congress, Gabriel Rufián, was even stronger and said: "Cursed are the fascists who speak and the cowards who remain silent".
The general secretary of the People's Party, Cuca Gamarra, criticized Toscano but also asserted that Montero must take responsibility for "a law that has harmful effects, as we warned". But even so, "no one has the right to offend her and enter into her personal life. Not hers and not anyone's."
From Vox itself, far from distancing themselves from the speech by their MP, they took it even further and their leader, Santiago Abascal, wrote: "What a thin skin and what a hard face!"