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Leo Varadkar, Irish prime minister, announces ‘surprise’ resignation

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced Wednesday that he would resign, a decision that he acknowledged would be a “surprise to many people.”

“This is as good a time as any” to step down, he said at a news conference in front of the Parliament building in Dublin, adding that his reasons for resigning were “both personal and political.”

When Varadkar in 2017 assumed the office of prime minister, or taoiseach in Irish, he made history as the youngest, first openly gay and first person from an ethnic minority background to lead Ireland. He is the son of an Irish mother and an Indian immigrant father. When Rishi Sunak was elected prime minister of Britain in 2022; both countries for the first time had leaders of Indian heritage.

Varadkar recounted Wednesday what he sees as high points of his time in office, during which he shepherded Ireland through Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and improved unemployment and budget shortfalls. He leaves behind a record as one of Europe’s most liberal leaders.

This month, Varadkar accepted defeat as an attempted referendum failed on International Women’s Day to alter language in Ireland’s constitution. The effort sought to change an outdated and unpopular clause in the constitution about a woman’s “life within the home,” but disagreement over the proposed new language contributed to its failure to pass.

Last week, President Biden hosted Varadkar and his partner, Matthew Barrett, at the White House to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In remarks at the White House, Varadkar — one of the most outspoken supporters of the Palestinians among European leaders — set out his views on Irish empathy for the plight of the Palestinians.

“We see our history in their eyes — a story of displacement, of dispossession and national identity questioned and denied, forced emigration, discrimination and now hunger,” he said, thanking Biden for his efforts to “secure a humanitarian cease-fire” and “create the space for lasting peace.”

Varadkar said Wednesday he hoped the current three-party coalition would be reelected; a general election is required to be held within the next year. “After careful consideration and some soul-searching, I believe that a new taoiseach and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve that,” he said.

He said he would resign as prime minister “as soon as my successor is able to take up that office” and that he was resigning as leader of the Fine Gael party effective immediately. A new taoiseach would be elected by members of his party after Ireland’s legislative body resumes after a break for Easter.

Varadkar said he had “no definite personal or political plans” but was “looking forward to having the time to think about them.”


A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Matthew Barrett as Leo Varadkar’s husband rather than partner. This version has been corrected.

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