Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte accused interior minister Matteo Salvini of “disloyalty” and an “obsession with blocking immigration” in an open letter published on social media — intensifying the feud within the ruling coalition.
Conte, who does not belong to any party, used the case of a migrant rescue boat refused entry to Italy’s ports by Salvini to settle scores with the Lega (League) leader who had called a motion of no-confidence in the government.
Salvini said last week that his right-wing party would no longer support the current alliance with the Five-Star Movement.
Salvini hopes there will be a new election soon as he tries to capitalise on his party's rising popularity.
The League is trying to pull the plug on its coalition with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which currently holds the most seats in the chamber and the senate.
But his move doesn’t seem to be going according to plan.
5-Star and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) have stalled any debate in the senate of the no-confidence motion and many politicians are now discussing forming their own coalition that would sideline Salvini.
In his letter, Conte said he had convinced six EU countries to take some of the migrants aboard the Open Arms charity ship and accused Salvini of “disloyal collaboration” by misrepresenting Conte’s own position.
Conte accused the interior minister of using the immigration issue to draw in supporters rather than look for solutions with Italy’s partners.
"I understand your faithful and obsessive concentration on addressing the issue of immigration by reducing it to the formula of 'closed ports'. You are a political leader and you are legitimately intent on constantly increasing your support ...," he wrote.
Salvini replied to Conte’s comments at a news conference outside the southern Italian city of Caserta.
"Yes, I am guilty of having an obsession with the safety of Italian citizens, and an obsession with fighting human traffickers and NGOs who are accomplices to human traffickers. Sixty million Italians pay my salary for this obsession."
Is Salvini regretting his feud with 5-Star?
After rumours spread that 5-Star and PD politicians were thinking of forming a coalition, the League's Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio said on Wednesday he did not rule out patching up things with 5-Star.
Salvini said the League "will do whatever we can to prevent a trickster's deal between 5-Star and the PD."
But chances of patching things up seem lost. Five-Star leader Luigi di Maio said on Thursday that there was no going back after Salvini said he wanted to end the coalition.
"Now he regrets it, but the damage is done. Everyone creates their own destiny. Good luck!" Di Maio wrote in a Facebook post.
On August 20, Conte will address the Senate on the crisis. After that he can go to the president of Republic, Sergio Mattarella, to resign or he can wait for a no-confidence vote.
After that, Mattarella meets the parties. The League and the 5 star movement can decide to continue together with another prime minister.
The League offered 5 star the approval of the cut of the parliamentarians (a reform 5 star movement wants, because it focused on that reform their electoral campaign) in exchange of an immediate election after the reform.
The 5 star movement can decide to continue with Conte or another prime minister with the Democrat Party (who came third in the last political elections).
The last option possible, if there is no majority, is to have an election (after at least 60 days after the dissolution of the parliament, that only Mattarella can call).