Spain’s right at odds after censure vote targets far-right leader

Vox party’s Santiago Abascal accused of divisive behaviour in multicultural Ceuta

The uneasy relationship between Spain’s main parties of the right has come under scrutiny after the leader of the far-right was the target of a censure vote in the city of Ceuta.

On July 23rd, members of the local assembly in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the coast of North Africa, voted to declare the leader of the far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, persona non grata.

The vote was driven by accusations that Abascal had deliberately fuelled division in the city in May, following a crisis when Morocco allowed more than 10,000 migrants to cross the border into Ceuta due to a diplomatic dispute with Spain.

While visiting the city in the wake of the incident, the Vox leader described Ceuta’s Muslims, who make up about half of its 85,000-strong population, as “pro-Moroccan” and “fifth columnists”, a term that originated during the Spanish civil war to identify perceived traitors.


Although the central government prevented Abascal from staging a rally in the city, there were rowdy scenes as his supporters gathered and confronted opponents of the far right.

“Ever since Santiago Abascal came here and said what he did about fifth columnists, [Vox] has taken it up like a mantra,” said Mohamed Alí, of the local Caballas coalition, which supported the motion against him.

“And that is very dangerous because it casts in doubt the Spanish identity of the city itself.”

Ceuta is one of two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, along with Melilla. Both have large Spanish-Muslim populations and both are frequently magnets for African migrants seeking to reach Europe. Vox’s hard line on immigration and evocation of the Catholic reconquest of Spain from Muslims in the Middle Ages have drawn frequent charges of Islamophobia.

However, arguably the most controversial aspect of the vote against Abascal was that the conservative Popular Party (PP), which governs Ceuta, abstained, thus ensuring the success of the motion.

Drastic action

Vox spokesman Jorge Buxadé responded by accusing the PP of being “the necessary collaborator for the strategy of demonisation and dehumanisation” of his party.

He also announced that Vox was breaking ties with the conservatives, a decision that could have major repercussions nationwide by bringing down a string of PP-led local administrations that rely on the support of the far-right party.

Vox has since appeared to reconsider taking such drastic action and has backpedalled on its threat somewhat, leaving the relationship with the PP up in the air. In Ceuta, the two parties have been increasingly at odds in recent months as Vox pressured for the elimination of subsidies for organisations that supported migrants and women.

The Ceuta vote against Abascal has also generated a debate about the use of the so-called cordon sanitaire policy – isolating politicians or parties who are deemed to have gone beyond the pale.

“No to the cordon sanitaire,” said the mayor of Ceuta, the PP’s Juan Jesús Vivas, in defending his party’s decision to abstain in the vote.

“But also no to the kind of cordon sanitaire which Vox has established to put at risk our co-existence in Ceuta, to inflame Ceuta and divide its people.”

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain