The founder of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement (M5S) has asked members to vote on splitting from a Eurosceptic bloc of MEPs co-chaired by Nigel Farage.
Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned politician, said in a post on his blog that since Farage had led Ukip to Britain voting to leave the EU, the two parties no longer shared common goals and he recommended leaving the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD).
“Recent events in Europe, such as Brexit, have led us to reconsider the nature of the EFDD group,” Grillo wrote. “With the extraordinary success of the leave campaign, Ukip achieved its political objective: to leave the European Union.
“Let’s discuss the concrete facts: Farage has already abandoned the leadership of his party and British MEPs will leave the European parliament in the next legislature. Until then, our British colleagues will be focused on developing the choices that will determine the UK’s political future.”
Grillo and Farage forged an alliance over lunch in Brussels after 2014’s European elections, in which Ukip took the largest share of the vote in Britain and M5S came second in Italy after winning 17 seats.
Both said at the time that the group was aimed at “restoring freedom and national democracy”, with Farage adding: “Expect us to fight the good fight to take back control of our countries’ destinies.”
In a move that would see his party mesh with European liberals, Grillo has called an online referendum, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, on breaking away and instead forming a new group with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), led by the former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who is also the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.
Grillo has long called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency, but not on Italy leaving the EU.
With ALDE’s 68 MEPs, the alliance could become the “third political force in the European parliament”, Grillo wrote, while pointing to the fact that his party had only voted alongside Ukip about 20% of the time within the past few years.
He said the two shared values linked to “direct democracy, transparency, freedom and honesty”.
“With our vote we can make a difference and influence the result of many important decisions to counter the European establishment,” Grillo added.
Farage said in a statement: “In political terms it would be completely illogical for Five Star to join the most Euro fanatic group in the European parliament. The ALDE group doesn’t support referenda or the basic principle of direct democracy. ALDE are also the loudest voice for a EU army. I suspect if Five Star joins ALDE it’s support will not last long.”
A Ukip spokesman said: “Both Ukip and Five Star are free to choose to stay or quit a political relationship. While it’s interesting that some Five Star MEPs adamantly wish to stay in the EFDD group, as adults we wish them all the best whatever they do.”