By Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) -Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday he was leaving the 5-Star Movement to form a new parliamentary group backing the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Di Maio’s move comes after he accused 5-Star leader and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of undermining government efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Rome’s standing within the European Union.
The split in the 5-Star Movement threatens to bring fresh instability to Draghi’s multi-party coalition.
5-Star has become increasingly uneasy about Italy sending weapons to Ukraine and there has been widespread speculation that Conte is considering pulling the movement out of the government in an effort to halt its slide in opinion polls.
The party issued a statement on Tuesday flatly denying this.
“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the 5-Star Movement,” Di Maio, himself a former 5-Star leader, told a news conference.
Di Maio, who has been at odds with Conte for months, did not indicate how many 5-Star lawmakers he would take with him but he said that as a result of the schism the party would no longer be the largest group in parliament.
“From today we begin a new path with people who have decided to look to the future,” he said, in an apparent hint about his new parliamentary group’s name which according to political sources is likely to be “Together for the Future”.
If 5-Star does end up pulling out of the government it would not deprive Draghi of his majority, but the European Central Bank chief would no longer head a “national unity” coalition as he agreed to do in February last year.
Even assuming Draghi decided to carry on, other parties could follow 5-Star out of the government, which would trigger its collapse.
The 5-Star Movement, which triumphed at 2018 elections when it took 33% of the vote, is now polling at less than half that level, and is in total disarray ahead of the next election scheduled for early next year.
Di Maio bitterly attacked his former party, calling it “irresponsible” over its position on the war in Ukraine and saying it had “put the government in difficulty just to gain a few points in the polls, without even succeeding”.