Silvio Berlusconi pulls plug on attempt to defeat coalition as his own MPs fail to back him

Former premier performs U-turn by declaring confidence in Letta government in one of the worst humiliations of his 20-year political career


The Berlusconi era is limping towards a farcical conclusion as the billionaire mogul inflicted upon himself one of the worst humiliations of his 20-year political career.

In a jaw-dropping U-turn, the tycoon voted to support the Italian coalition government after campaigning for weeks to bring it down.

In the hours ahead of the confidence vote in the Senate, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi had said he would pull the plug on the government of Enrico Letta because of the former’s opposition to an impending rise in VAT. Most observers said the real reason was Mr Berlusconi’s fury at a vote planned for tomorrow which could strip him of his Senate seat following his tax fraud conviction in August.

However, the media tycoon and three-time premier was forced into a U-turn when it became clear that dozens of senators from his normally supine PDL party (People of Freedom) said they were ready to vote “yes” in the confidence vote.

The rebellion was led by the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, national secretary of Berlusconi’s party who was once seen as a protégé.

There was stunned silence when Berlusconi stood in the senate to announce that he would vote with Premier Letta.

“We have decided to vote for confidence, not without internal disputes,” Berlusconi said. “This is not a U-turn”. He held his head in his hands after he spoke.

There were some gasps and guffaws, but mostly stunned silence in the chamber as Berlusconi made his climb down, with Premier Letta shaking his head.

Just 24 hours earlier, the ex-premier has that it would be “unthinkable” to back the Letta government. But by noon, dozens of senators from the mogul’s centre-right grouping had said they would form a break-away centre-right party and support the left-right coalition government as it sought to introduce electoral reforms and measures against Italy’s spiralling unemployment.

The Pdl senator Robert Formigoni, announced ahead of the vote that he and around 35 of his centre-right colleagues would back Letta in the confidence vote in defiance of Berlusconi.

“It’s not an ideal government,” he said. “But it’s better that than a devastating crisis that hits businesses and Italian families. We remain on the centre-right but we are collaborating with our traditional enemies because there is this extraordinary crisis.”

Mr Letta, who had been tipped to win with just a handful of votes just minutes before Berlusconi’s U-turn, ended up sweeping the vote with a crushing majority of 235 senators in favour and 70 against.

The new lease of life for Mr Letta’s fragile left-right coalition calmed the markets and increased Italy’s chances of emerging from the economic doldrums, pundits said. Though whether the government will achieve the deep reforms and painful tax and budget measures needed to reverse a decade of economic stagnation and cut Italy’s two trillion euro debt remains to be seen.

Yesterday, however, it was the fate of former leader Berlusconi, who was forced to step down in November 2011 at the height of Italy’s financial crisis, that gripped the country.

For the tycoon to try to wreck the Letta Government, only to have to support it at the last moment amid a rebellion in the ranks of the party he founded, there was widespread ridicule; commentators across the spectrum suggested his time as major political force was at an end.

Francesco Specchia, from the right-wing Libero newspaper, said: “In calling this confidence vote, for the first time ever, Berlusconi got his strategy completely wrong.”

Giacomo Marramao, a politics professor at Roma Tre University, said: “I think we are seeing the final chapter of Berlusconi’s political life.”

After the confidence vote passed, the Prime Minister said: “Today is a historic day, we have clearer conditions that let us look far ahead.”

Laura Puppato, a senator in Mr Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party, said: “We hope we are coming to the end of the era where government was run for the business and personal interests of one person.”

Berlusconi, 77, is due to begin a one-year sentence of either house arrest or community service this month following his tax fraud conviction.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home