(Bloomberg) -- The largest party in Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s governing coalition split on Tuesday after Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio quit the group over its refusal to back military support for Ukraine.
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Di Maio told reporters in Rome that he was leaving the Five Star Movement, which he used to lead, and would start a new parliamentary group. The decision follows days of back and forth with former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the current Five Star leader.
The move is the biggest political shake-up in Draghi’s government since he became premier last year, but it does not threaten his majority in both houses of Parliament, where his coalition has a comfortable majority. Conte has signaled he intends to continue to support Draghi’s government.
But following the shake-up, Matteo Salvini’s League will become the largest party in the coalition, giving him a stronger voice on his core policy platforms, including blocking tax rises and pushing for more state aid.
Conte is opposed to sending weapons to Ukraine, conflicting with the government’s stance. Draghi has been one of the most outspoken backers for the country and traveled to Kyiv earlier this month to voice support for Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.
Five Star “had the duty to support the government without ambiguity,” Di Maio said. “At this historical juncture, supporting European and Atlanticist values cannot be considered a fault.”
The debate has divided both Italy’s public opinion and Draghi’s wide coalition government. The rift widened this week ahead of a closely watched parliamentary debate on Italy’s position on the war.
Di Maio now plans to set up a separate parliamentary group. At least 60 out of 227 Five Star lawmakers are set to join him, according to news agency Ansa. Conte instead is considering leaving Draghi’s coalition and offering his support only on ad hoc basis, according to people familiar with the matter. Five Star said in a statement they had no plan to quit the government.
Read More: Draghi’s Predecessor May Quit Italian Coalition Over Ukraine
Five Star came first in Italy’s 2018 elections but has since fallen dramatically in the polls. While Draghi on Tuesday vowed to continue providing aid and defended the European Union’s sanctions regime, 57-year-old Conte has called on the government to focus on reviving peace talks and halt weapons deliveries.
The poor performance of the party under Conte’s leadership has been exacerbating internal tensions. With his stance on the war in Ukraine, Conte has harmed Italy’s international image “without even succeeding” in shoring up the party’s electoral fortunes, Di Maio said.
(Updates with Draghi prospects, League in third and fourth paragraph)
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