The UK Government has been accused of “cowardice” in its response to the imprisonment of nine Catalan politicians jailed for their role in organising an illegal independence referendum in 2017.

Christopher Pincher, the Europe Minister, faced a wave of indignation from SNP MPs after he refused to condemn the imprisonment or the scale of the sentences handed down to the Catalan leaders, which ranged from nine to 13 years.

He told MPs: “Her Majesty's Government position on Catalonia is clear and, that is, it is a matter for Spain."

Insisting Spanish courts were robust and transparent, Mr Pincher went on: "The United Kingdom strongly supports the rule of law and remains clear that political leaders, like anyone else, have a duty to abide by the law.”

But his Conservative colleague, Sir Desmond Swayne, noted, to cheers from the Nationalist benches: “It is a matter for Spain but it is also shocking, horrifying and a reminder of a former Spanish regime.”

Three weeks before it took place, the independence referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Some 92 per cent of those who voted backed independence; on a turn-out of just 43 per cent.

On Monday, violent clashes broke out on the streets after the nine Catalan leaders were convicted of sedition and jailed. Another three were found guilty of disobedience and fined. All 12 denied the charges.

Following the court ruling a new arrest warrant was issued for Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan President, who is now living abroad. He claimed Catalonians were victims of a "strategy of repression and revenge".

During debate on an Urgent Question in the Commons, the SNP’s Angus Brendan MacNeil denounced the EU’s response to the imprisonment as “spineless and shameless” and argued its Pontius Pilate approach was shared by the UK Government.

The MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar asked Mr Pincher: “What sort of oppression by Spain in Barcelona or Catalonia will the UK Government tolerate? Forget independence and the fact Catalonia was annexed in 1716. What level of oppression do they oppose?..The cowardice that has been shown is not on…”

Emily Thornberry for Labour denounced the sentencing as “unnecessary, heavy-handed and entirely counterproductive,” noting how it would simply fuel the independence cause and “radicalise what has hitherto been a peaceful pro-independence movement”.

In an intervention, John Bercow, the Speaker, said, to hear hears, Mr Puigdemont could "come and speak in the Palace of Westminster and would be extremely welcome”.