Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement said on Sunday that Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, was no longer a credible partner, apparently closing the door on any possibility of resurrecting the ruling coalition.
Top brass of 5-Star met on Sunday at the villa of the movement's founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, to discuss their stance.
"All those present were agreed in defining Salvini as no longer a credible interlocutor," 5-Star said in a statement.
Among those at the meeting were 5-Star's leader Luigi Di Maio, its speaker of the lower house Roberto Fico, and Alessandro Di Batista, who is not in parliament but is perhaps its most charismatic politician with a large personal following.
On Aug. 8, in an attempt to capitalise on his surging popularity, Salvini announced his alliance with 5-Star was no longer workable and called for elections that could crown him as prime minister.
However, his move has not gone to plan.The League put forward a motion of no-confidence in the government, but 5-Star and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) refused to debate it and their politicians are now openly discussing forming a coalition among themselves to sideline Salvini.
Alarmed at the prospect of losing power, Salvini has softened his stance and indicated he would be ready to carry on governing with 5-Star, perhaps with a reshuffle of cabinet members, but has so far been spurned by his erstwhile allies.
Salvini said after 5-Star's statement that he would listen to Conte with an open mind on Tuesday and his main concern was now the risk of a 5-Star/PD government which he would "do all that is humanly possible to prevent."
However, speaking at an event near the Tuscan town of Lucca, he added that he did not have the votes in parliament to block such a "government of losers", a reference to the fact the League came first in recent European elections and leads in opinion polls.
He made clear that he was no longer determined to sink the government, saying that if Conte "sets out a path that is good for Italy, who am I to say no?". On the other hand the League will organise street protests if 5-Star and the PD hook up "because the sovereignty of the country is at stake."
5-Star said Salvini had proved himself to be untrustworthy and described his recent overtures towards them as "a shameful U-turn in which he is trying to dictate conditions without any credibility".
The party said it regretted that Salvini's behaviour had ruined its collaboration with the League's members of parliament, with whom it had worked well since the government was formed 14 months ago.
The 5-Star Movement has been hurt by its tie-up with the League, halving its voter support since the two parties joined forces in June last year, according to opinion polls. The League has overtaken it to become Italy's most popular party.