The controversial former Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá (Popular Party), who held the post for 24 years and was lately a senator in Madrid, having had the whip withdrawn by her party as she faced a series of corruption charges, died of a heart attack in a hotel near Congress on Tuesday morning.

Mariano Rajoy said he wished to offer her family his and his party's condolences, "we have been enormously affected by this", adding that he had spoken to her before she appeared before the Supreme Court to answer questions on the alleged fraudulent funding of the PP in Valencia.

Prime Minister's Questions was delayed as the Home Secretary and several Popular Party MPs rushed over to the Hotel Villa Real, opposite Congress in central Madrid. Europa Press reported emergency services had been called to the hotel shortly after 7 a.m. but were unable to save her life.

As the delayed session began, the Speaker of Congress, Ana Pastor, announced Mrs. Barberá had passed away and that the house would hold a minute of silence. Podemos MPs refused to participate, leaving the chamber in protest.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias tweeted: "We lament the death of Barberá but we cannot take part in a political homage to someone whose career is marked by corruption".

United Left leader Alberto Garzón tweeted: "Holding a minute of silence in Congress for the death of Rita Barberá is a homage to her career. We refuse to do so and are leaving".

On Monday, Rita Barberá "absolutely" denied any knowledge of illegal funding of the regional Popular Party and its election campaigns while she had been Mayor of Valencia: "My job was to get the vote out".