Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio quits leftist party over Ukraine arms

5-Star Movement party split over the country's support for Ukrainian defences

Mario Draghi, Italy's prime minister, left, and Luigi Di Maio, Italy's foreign affairs minister, talk during a debate at the Senate in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.  Italy’s biggest party is set to splinter over the country’s support for Ukraine, just as Draghi defended in parliament his government’s stance on the conflict. Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico / Bloomberg
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Proposals by Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi on providing arms shipments for Ukraine in the war triggered by Russia have prompted the country's foreign minister to quit one of the coalition's biggest parties.

Luigi Di Maio formed his own party to stay in the cabinet ahead of a vote later on Wednesday in which the government is set to secure support for a resolution committing it to continued support for Ukraine.

Mr Di Maio’s new movement “Together for the Future” will be represented in the chamber with about 20 other 5-Star Movement politicians who also defected. About a dozen 5-Star senators defected as well, news reports said, making the right-wing League now the largest single party in parliament.

Weeks of tensions in Italian politics preceded the launch of the Ukraine policy. The 5-Star leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, has called for Italy to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and to focus more on a diplomatic resolution, creating a split with Mr Di Maio who as foreign minister is responsible for implementing the government’s Ukraine policy.

In a bid to differentiate 5-Star’s stance amid divided public opinion, Mr Conte has been opposing sending weapons to Ukraine.

“We had to decide which side of history to be on,” Mr Di Maio said.

The grass roots anti-establishment movement's support peaked in the 2018 parliamentary election when it emerged as the largest party in parliament, but its base support has withered as the party leadership has sought to remain in power by forming coalitions with the right, the left and within the current grand alliance.

Other political leaders were quick to seize on the development, with former prime minister Matteo Renzi cheering what he said was the “end” of the 5-Star experiment.

“It was a political experience we always fought because we believed it hurt the country,” he said on Twitter. “Let’s not talk about it any more. Let’s return to serious things, to politics.”

The League's leader Matteo Salvini vowed not to seek new government positions as a result of his party's new status as the largest party, saying he doesn't seek “thrones.” He instead called for new measures to help Italians suffering from high gas and energy prices.

“The government can’t be blocked because of the upheaval in the 5-Star Movement,” he said.

Updated: June 22, 2022, 11:33 AM