The minister who two years ago was anointed as Silvio Berlusconi’s heir apparent has split with his former mentor and formed a breakaway group.
Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano announced the creation of a new group, initially called the New Centre-Right, and declared that he was unable to join Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party which is to be relaunched on Saturday.
The split follows months of wrangling between the hardliners loyal to Berlusconi and a group of more moderate rightwingers.
It remains unclear what effect the split will have on the fragile coalition government led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Berlusconi, who in August was convicted of tax fraud, was forced into a humiliating u-turn in October when Alfano and other moderates refused to support his attempt to topple Letta’s coalition by pulling out.
Alfano is believed to be able to count on the backing of 37 senators and 23 members of the lower Chamber of Deputies, enough to keep the Coalition government in place.
He told a group of moderates after last-minute talks with Berlusconi collapsed: "I'm here making a choice that I never thought I'd have to make - not join Forza Italia."
Transport minister Maurizio Lupi said the decision to split from Berlusconi was taken with "great suffering" but that a group of senior politicians felt unable to participate in a Forza Italia of "extremists."
Tensions within the centre-right have been festering since Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction which the media mogul maintains was purely political.
When Letta’s government moved to get him kicked out of the Senate on the grounds of the conviction, Berlusconi responded by attempting to destroy the Coalition by withdrawing from it. He was foiled when Alfano and other moderates refused to follow his order.
Berlusconi said shortly before the schism in his People of Freedom party that the moderates were “free to go”, adding: "Those who believe in us, stay and fight.”
The Senate is due to vote on 27 November whether the former premier should be stripped of his seat.