The letter, from the Dutch parliament’s standing committee on European affairs, asks for action from the government and the EU over what MPs describe as the “rule of law crisis” in Malta. It asks for a response within 24 hours.

“We need Europe to make Muscat leave ASAP,” said the opposition MP Jason Azzopardi, who acts for the journalist’s family.

In a reference to the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and his elected successor, Ursula von der Leyen, Azzopardi said: “They need to speak up. Joseph Muscat sits at the European council with other prime ministers while his chief of staff has been [accused of] being one of the masterminds.”

If Muscat refuses to resign, Malta’s opposition is calling for the EU to launch its biggest possible sanction: the invoking of article 7.

The measure can be used to withdraw privileges such as voting rights from member states that persistently breach the EU’s founding values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.