Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S), an anti-establishment party, has broken its ties with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in favor of joining a pro-EU free market group in Brussels.
M5S members backed founder Beppe Grillo’s call and voted overwhelming to leave Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), the anti-EU political group in the European Parliament of which UKIP is a member.
Almost 80 percent of M5S’ 40,000 members voted in favor of severing ties with UKIP and other Euroskeptic parties in a move some believe is motivated more by pragmatism than ideals.
The pro-EU group, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will vote on Tuesday night whether to welcome the Italian party.
The liberal bloc, which is led by former Belgian Prime Minister and Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, could be tempted to allow the integration, as it will weaken the Euroskeptics while also making ALDE the third largest group in the European parliament.
The departure of Grillo’s 17 MEPs from EFD is a heavy blow for UKIP, which will see a sharp reduction in EU funding as a result.
It will now only take the departure of one non-British MEP, or three UKIP MEPs, for the whole EFD to collapse.
Farage and Grillo, a comedian turned politician, joined together in 2014 to create EFD with the goal of preventing a “single centralized European superstate.”
The ex-UKIP leader said in a statement: “Grillo will now join the Euro-fanatic establishment of ALDE which supports TTIP, mass immigration and an EU army, but oppose direct democracy.”
On the eve of the party’s vote, Grillo wrote an open letter to his members in which he explained how M5S no longer shares common goals with UKIP.
“Recent events in Europe, such as Brexit, have led us to reconsider the nature of the EFDD group,” he 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.”