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Self-employed Catalans go out of business as crisis hits their powerhouse economy

Catalonia is losing 40 self-employed workers a day as the region’s economy falters amid the political turmoil and companies move to other parts of Spain.

A year ago, before the crisis erupted, the number of self-employed workers — who make up 16.5 per cent of the Spanish working population — rose by 496 in Catalonia in one month, according to the Spanish National Federation of the Self-employed (ATA). Many of those leaving end up in Madrid and other parts of Spain, reversing the decades-long trend that turned Catalonia into the nation’s economic powerhouse.

Lorenzo Amor, president of the ATA, said the job losses were the result of falling consumer confidence in Catalonia, which generates 19 per cent of national GDP. Already 2,400 companies have moved their legal headquarters out of the region to other parts of Spain so they can remain within the EU. This means that Catalonia, the most indebted of Spain’s 17 regions, with debts of €76 billion, will have less tax revenue.

“Almost two out of every three Catalan self-employed workers said they had been affected by a slowdown. We hope things will stabilise after next month’s election,” Mr Amor said.

Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, sought to assure Catalans yesterday that they would be able to cast their votes in next month’s regional election without fear of foreign interference. “Things work democratically and you can vote with liberty,” he said in answer to a parliamentary question about claims that Russia was behind a social media campaign of disinformation to undermine Spain and the EU.

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, dismissed as “hysteria” the claims that Moscow had encouraged separatist sentiment against Spain.

On Monday María Dolores de Cospedal, the Spanish defence minister, said that “many actions” to mount a misinformation campaign to destabilise Catalonia had “come from Russian territory” and elsewhere. However, both she and Mr Rajoy said Spain had no indication that the Russian government was involved.

Two Kremlin-linked media outlets sent millions of messages to sow divisions in Spain before the referendum, according to a study by the George Washington University in the US. The study said that reports sent by RT and Sputnik, two state-owned broadcasters, had spread 5,029,877 messages giving Spain a negative image.

● Spain’s state-run broadcaster, RTVE, has been condemned for playing the theme tune of the 1970s horror film The Exorcist to a clip of Carles Puigdemont, the exiled Catalan leader. At the time he was saying that he and other Catalan leaders knew they might face imprisonment for pursuing independence.