Spain’s national unity suffered a decisive blow on Friday afternoon when Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10.
In a response to the Catalan declaration, the Spanish government declared a state of emergency in Catalonia and moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia on Friday, stripping the region of its autonomy less than an hour after its parliament declared independence in a stunning show of defiance to Madrid.
Dozens of opposition Catalan MPs boycotted the secret ballot, marching out of the chamber in Barcelona before it took place and leaving Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats in protest.
But the Spanish Constitutional Court is likely to declare it illegal, and key international powers including Germany, the EU and the US back the Spanish position.
Although the Catalan declaration appears to be a doomed gesture, both sides’ moves take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new and possibly dangerous level.
Soon after the vote at the Catalan regional parliament, the national Spanish Senate made the unprecedented step of approving measures allowing the Spanish government to impose direct rule over Catalonia and a state of emergency in the Ctalan region..
Urging calm, Mr Rajoy said: "Spain is a serious country, it is a great nation and we are not prepared in any way to allow some people to liquidate our constitution."
Rajoy options could include the firing of Catalan leaders, and the Spanish government taking control of the region's finances, police and publicly owned media.
Much will now depend on how the Spanish government goes about removing Catalan officials from office and how pro-independence activists and the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, react to the intervention.
How would that be achieved is a matter of speculation, will we see armed troops or Spanish police march into Catalonia and forcibly take over the government?
For instance, a ship which is carrying around 10,000 Spanish police officers is docked in Barcelona, just waiting for a command from Madrid to deploy in the city.
The United States the EU and all the other major European states have said Catalonia was an “integral part of Spain” and that that they support the Spanish government's efforts to keep the nation “strong and united.”, and will not recognise an independent Catalan republic.