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PM Sipilä denies advance knowledge of Finns Party fracture, says no plan B discussed

Prime Minister Juhä Sipilä has rejected claims that he had prior knowledge of the formation of the breakaway New Alternative parliamentary group. One week before the government crumbled, Lännen Media journalist Lauri Nurmi reported on a government contingency plan to cobble together a coalition with the defecting faction – if ultra-nationalist Jussi Halla-aho was elected Finns Party chair.

Juha Sipilä
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä told Finnish News Agency STT that he first heard about the establishment of a new parliamentary group comprising ex-Finns Party MPs — the New Alternative — on Tuesday just before he was about to head to Naantali to meet President Sauli Niinistö.

At the time, Sipilä was expected to ask Niinistö to dissolve the Parliament so that he could begin talks aimed at forming a new coalition government.

However Lännen Media journalist Lauri Nurmi has challenged Sipilä’s version of Finland’s tumultuous Tuesday.

"In no way is it true that the Prime Minister was not already well aware [of it] and that it had been discussed in the government. In this sense, the Prime Minister has given the wrong impression that this was somehow improvised," Nurmi said on Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme as he referred to the break-up of the Finns Party parliamentary group and the establishment of a new group of MPs.

On June 3, one week before anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho was elected to replace Timo Soini as Finns Party chair, Nurmi reported on a plan cooked up by the government in the event that Halla-aho succeeded Soini.

That story noted that a group of Finns Party MPs would break ties with Halla-aho and that the group would number around 20.

STT quoted Sipilä as saying on Wednesday that he only heard of the new parliamentary group before going to meet Niinistö on Tuesday.

"That is formally true," Nurmi noted.

He pointed out however, that the new group could not be established before Halla-aho’s elevation to chair at last weekend’s party convention.

Informal discussions since early May

Nurmi disclosed that he had heard of off-the-record discussions in Parliament dating back to early May about the splintering of Finns Party MPs.

The Lännen Media journalist also said that during the past week he learned of a backup plan of action in case of Halla-aho’s election from more than one government source.

However he would not divulge further information about his sources.

"Several. Hopefully this sheds enough light. Unfortunately, I can’t say more," Nurmi concluded.

Denial from Sipilä

In spite of Lännen Media’s reporting, Prime Minister Sipilä has denied that the coalition trio discussed any plan B during May and June.

MPs representing both the Finns Party and New Alternative parliamentary groups are expected to meet at the Parliament on Thursday.

The Finns Party will elect a new parliamentary group leader following the resignation of chief whip Toimi Kankaanniemi after the party convention last Saturday.

Meanwhile the New Alternative group is expected to see its ranks swell as more MPs defect from the Finns Party. So far, second-term MP Arja Juvonen and first-timer Veera Ruoho have also crossed the floor to join the newly-formed splinter group.

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