Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar says he will step down as party leader

LONDON (AP) — Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who made history as his country’s first gay and biracial leader, announced Wednesday that he will resign for reasons he says are both personal and political.

Varadkar announced on Wednesday that he will immediately step down as head of the centre-right Fine Gael party, part of Ireland’s governing coalition. He will be replaced as prime minister in April after a party leadership contest.

“My reasons for resigning now are personal and political, but above all political,” Varadkar said, without elaborating. He said he intends to remain in parliament as a reserve MP and that he has “definite” future plans.

Varadkar, 45, served two roles as taoiseach, or prime minister, between 2017 and 2020, and again from December 2022 as part of shared work with Micheál Martin, leader of coalition partner Fianna Fáil.

When he was first elected, he was the country’s youngest-ever leader, as well as Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister. Varadkar, whose mother is Irish and father Indian, was also Ireland’s first biracial taoiseach.

He played a leading role in the campaigns at legalize same-sex marriageapproved in a 2015 referendum, ea repeal the ban on abortionvoted in 2018.

“I am proud to have made the country a fairer and more modern place,” Varadkar said in a resignation statement in Dublin.

Varadkar was first elected to parliament in 2007 and once said he would leave politics at the age of 50.

He led Ireland in the years following Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union. Brexit has had huge implications for Ireland, an EU member that borders the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland. Relations between the UK and Ireland were tense while Brexiteer Boris Johnson was the UK’s leader, but they stabilized with the arrival of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Varadkar recently returned from Washington, where he met with President Joe Biden and other political leaders as part of the Irish Prime Minister’s traditional visit to the United States on St. Patrick’s Day.

Varadkar also expressed frustration at how polarized politics has become in Ireland, as in other countries.

There have been reports of discontent within Fine Gael and 10 of the party’s MPs, almost a third of the total, have announced they will not stand for re-election.

Earlier this month, voters rejected the government’s position in referendums on two constitutional amendments. Changes championed by Varadkar that would have broadened the definition of family and removed language about a woman’s role in the home were soundly defeated. The result sparked criticism that the pro-change campaign had been lackluster and confusing.

Even so, his resignation was not widely expected. Martin, the current deputy prime minister, said he was “surprised, of course, when I heard what he was going to do”.

“But I want to take this opportunity to thank him sincerely,” Martin said. “We had a great time.”

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said he did not believe the referendum results were “the key factor” in Varadkar’s decision.

“I think there is a gap before the local and European elections (in June) and that the timing probably affected it more than the referendum,” Ryan said.

Martin said Varadkar’s resignation should not trigger a snap election and that the three-party coalition government that also includes the Green Party would continue.

Varadkar said he knew his departure “would be a surprise to many people and a disappointment to some”.

“I know that others, how can I put it, will deal with the news well — that’s the beautiful thing about living in a democracy,” he said. “There is never a right time to resign from a high position. However, this is as good a time as any.”

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