The Spanish government has recalled its ambassador from Buenos Aires and repeated its calls for Argentina’s populist president, Javier Milei, to apologise after he reopened a festering diplomatic row by suggesting that the wife of Spain’s prime minister was “corrupt”.

Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” and sworn enemy of socialism, infuriated Spain’s centre-left government when he used a speech at a summit of international far-right leaders in Madrid on Sunday to revive allegations that Pedro Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, had engaged in corruption and influence-peddling.

Sánchez has described the allegations as part of a baseless smear campaign waged against him and his family by his political and media enemies.

He also said the onslaught of personal attacks was weighing heavily on him. Sánchez spent five days weighing up his political future at the end of April before finally deciding to stay in office.

Milei seized on recent events in his speech on Sunday, in which he once again laid into what he deems the evils of socialism.

“The global elites don’t understand how destructive implementing socialist ideas can be because they’re too far away from it all,” he said. “They don’t know what kind of society and country socialism can produce, what kind of people cling to power and what levels of abuse it can bring. Even with a corrupt wife, he debases himself and takes five days to think about it.”

The Spanish government – which described Milei’s words as an unprecedented “frontal attack on our democracy, on our institutions, and on Spain itself” – responded hours later by announcing it would recall its ambassador in Buenos Aires.

Speaking on Sunday afternoon, Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, said the government expected a full public apology from Milei. “If such an apology is not forthcoming we will take all the actions we deem necessary to defend our sovereignty and our dignity,” he said.

Albares renewed his calls on Monday, saying he would summon the Argentinian ambassador to demand an explanation and an apology. He also said he was not ruling out breaking off diplomatic relations with the South American country.

“We clearly don’t want to take these measures but we will do so if there is no public apology,” he said.

Sánchez himself addressed the remarks on Monday, noting that while “Spain and Argentina are two fraternal nations that love and respect each other”, respect between governments – even those of very different political stripes – was “non-negotiable”.

Spain’s pleas have been given short shrift by Milei’s administration. The Argentinian president’s spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, said the current diplomatic unpleasantness had erupted three weeks ago when Sánchez’s bluntest minister suggested Milei’s eccentric media appearances could be down to “the ingestion of substances”.

“This all began on 3 May, when a Spanish government minister accused the Argentinian president of ingesting substances,” Adorni said on Monday. “Since then, there’s been an endless number of attacks from other ministers – and from Sánchez himself – talking about [Milei] being a fascist, a hater, a denier and a bad person – I could go on.”

He added: “Some people are asking for apologies. There won’t be any as there’s nothing to apologise for. In fact, we urge the Spanish government to apologise to us.”

Milei was, characteristically, rather more direct. On Monday morning he posted a picture on X of a lion roaring before an Argentinian flag. The caption read: “HELLO EVERYONE! THE LION IS BACK, SURFING ON A WAVE OF SOCIALIST TEARS. LONG LIVE FREEDOM, DAMN IT!”

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