UPDATED: Prime Minister Erna Solberg received at least some advance notice late Monday night that her justice minister, Sylvi Listhaug, would resign before a majority in Parliament forced her to do so. That saved Solberg’s conservative coalition government from collapse, and Solberg went on to praise both Listhaug and her decision.
“Sylvi Listhaug reported to me late last night that she herself wanted to resign as justice-, preparedness- and immigration minister based on the situation that has arisen in Parliament,” Solberg said at a press conference of her own right after Listhaug’s Tuesday morning. Solberg was referring to the decision by the centrist Christian Democrats party on Monday to join the opposition parties in Parliament and officially express a lack of confidence in Listhaug as justice minister when the Parliament was due to open at 10am on Tuesday.
If Listhaug fell, Solberg’s entire government stood to meet the same fate. Even though Listhaug has stirred up problems for Solberg and her government during the past four years, and openly defied the prime minister on several occasions, Solberg had to be grateful that her troublesome minister finally bowed to pressure and quit herself.
‘Sylvi has done a good job’
Solberg claimed Listhaug had “done a good job in the three ministerial posts she has had in the government,” (first in charge of agriculture, then immigration and integration, and finally justice, preparedness and immigration). Solberg said Listhaug had launched important reforms of agricultural policy, tightened immigration policy, stemmed a refugee influx in 2015 and ushered in “sustainable” integration policy.
“I have viewed Sylvi as a hard-working minister who’s intent on carrying out policy,” Solberg said. “She has had a clear voice.”
Then came the crux of the issue, after more than a week of Listhaug’s defiance and initial refusal to remove a highly offensive post on her Facebook page. It accused Norway’s Labour Party of putting the rights of terrorists above national security, and also led to sudden criticism against Solberg and how she was running the government. Solberg reportedly ordered her to delete the post the next day. Listhaug didn’t do so for another five days, and then only, she claimed, because she didn’t have rights to the photo she’d used. Solberg was left to apologize on behalf of the government for Listhaug’s conduct, and then ordered Listhaug to offer an apology in Parliament that wasn’t accepted.
By ultimately deciding to resign, Listhaug finally “put the government cooperation and politics first,” according to Solberg. She noted that the last week had been difficult for Listhaug, even claiming that Listhaug had been characterized “in ways she didn’t deserve, that have put her intentions in doubt and that aren’t appropriate in Norwegian politics.” Solberg called Listhaug ” a tough woman” whose voice would undoubtedly continue to be heard in Norwegian politics in the future.
Upon questioning, though, Solberg distanced herself from several of the comments Listhaug made at her own press conference less than an hour before. “I wouldn’t characterize Norwegian politics as a barnehage (children’s day care center),” Solberg said. “I think it would be wise for all of us to breathe in deeply and go back to discussing politics.”
Solberg also rejected Listhaug’s claim that she’d been the target of a “witchhunt.” “I wouldn’t have used that word,” Solberg said, “but it has been a tough debate. Sylvi is a tough politician with tough standpoints, but I think that when we look back on it, there are many who could have better thought through what they said.”
Nor did Solberg agree Listhaug’s freedom of expression had been violated. She said she felt the “dynamics” of the political uproar of the past week couldn’t have been foreseen.
Solberg’s generosity not reciprocated by Listhaug
While Solberg was generous in her comments about Listhaug, the now-former justice minister hadn’t mentioned Solberg with a single word in her own published statement earlier in the day. Listhaug referred only to her Progress Party and how she didn’t want to be held responsible for its loss of government power. She didn’t directly refer to how she also had put the entire government in danger of collapsing.
Progress Party leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen claimed the opposition in Parliament had “overplayed” its role in the debate over Listhaug and she denied Listhaug would now take on the role of a “victim” who has sacrificed her position for the sake of the party. “We are not a victim,” Jensen told reporters Tuesday morning. “Sylvi is no victim either.”
Jensen, however, made up for Listhaug’s failure to give Solberg any credit for how the prime minister and her government were prepared to resign as well in the wake of all the uproar Listhaug set off. Jensen said Solberg deserves “great respect” for what she’s done during a difficult time. “She (Solberg) has stood behind her justice minister, she has been willing to put the government’s position behind her,” Jensen said at an impromptu press conference at the Parliament later on Tuesday morning.
“Erna is a good prime minister for the country, she is a good leader for the government and I value the cooperation that we have,” Jensen said.