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The controversial presence of Spain's King Felipe in Barcelona for the opening of the Mobile World Congress, amidst unprecedented institutional tension, has re-awakened the interest of the British press in the Catalan situation and the judicial persecution of the independence cause. UK media coverage of the issue had already been recently jogged by the charging by English football authorities of Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, for wearing a yellow ribbon of solidarity with Catalan prisoners. However, now a newspaper with the pedigree of The Times has used the visit of the Spanish king to Barcelona to make a strong editorial call for the return of the exiled Catalan politicians and the resumption of dialogue between Spain and Catalonia.

In an editorial entitled 'Royalpolitik' (paywall access), the British daily considers that the Spanish institutions “must allow” Carles Puigdemont and the ministers in exile to return to Catalonia and begin a dialogue with the government in Madrid. The newspaper considers that given the current parliamentary balance in Catalonia, with a slim majority in favour of the pro-independence parties, the best alternative is to work for an understanding between all institutions. “Madrid should... learn to talk more about pluralism than about sedition”, argues the newspaper, which considers the imprisonment of pro-independence politicians was “plainly excessive”.

Freedom of expression, at stake

The newspaper also states its concern for the state of the freedom of expression in Spain. The Times notes that the preventive imprisonment of politicians has raised doubts among civil rights organisations all over the European continent. Because of this, the newspaper asserts that instead of imposing Spanish law, the king needs to start to interact with Catalonia to reach an understanding. And it argues that Felipe's visit to Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, provides him with an opportunity: he "should use his visit to listen to the Catalans”, the paper suggests.

Pantomimes and deep-seated problems

The Times expresses unease at the monarch's stubborn defence of the Spanish constitution, a legal text which it implies is obsolete as it was created to “address the wounds of the Civil War and the decades of authoritarian misrule”. The daily also mentions another of the Catalonia-related controversies of the last few days that has impacted directly on the United Kingdom: the fact that the private plane of Manchester City's Pep Guardiola has twice been searched by Spanish police to check whether he was smuggling Carles Puigdemont back to his home. This is an "absurd pantomime”, the text affirms, concluding that what the Spanish state is facing is a much deeper problem: "the limits and possibilities of autonomies in a centralised state".