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Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announces surprise resignation

By Niamh Kennedy and Sophie Tanno, CNN

(CNN) — Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has announced his resignation, citing “personal and political, but mainly political reasons” in a surprise move.

Flanked by colleagues outside government buildings in Dublin on Wednesday, Varadkar said he felt he was no longer the “best man” for the job. He said he would stay as prime minister until a successor can be elected after parliament returns from recess next month.

Varadkar first became prime minister in 2017, after being elected leader of the Fine Gael party. He is the country’s youngest premier and Ireland’s first gay leader.

“I am resigning as president [of the party] and leader of Fine Gael effective today, and will resign as taoiseach [Irish prime minister] as soon as my successor is able to take up that office,” Varadkar said.

Acknowledging that his resignation would be a “surprise to many and a disappointment to some,” Varadkar said his decision was taken with the best interests of the country in mind.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Micheál Martin, leader of coalition partner Fianna Fáil, said Varadkar was “entitled to take a decision of this kind,” but called it an an “unprecedented” development.

There will now be a leadership contest within Varadkar’s party to replace him in advance of the party conference on April 6. The government is obliged to hold another general election before May 2025, but Varadkar did not announce any plan to do so in his departure speech.

Varadkar’s first premiership came to a halt in 2020 after a general election ended with no party winning a majority.

Fine Gael entered a coalition with Fianna Fáil party that saw he and Martin swap the role of prime minister and deputy. Varadkar resumed his position as Taoiseach in December 2022.

Varadkar’s announcement comes mere days after a headline-making trip to Washington DC which saw him challenge President Joe Biden over the US response to the war in Gaza.

Varadkar had also been grappling with several controversies at home. On March 9, his government lost two referenda to change what it called “sexist” language in the constitution.

He has also faced backlash over Ireland’s housing crisis and soaring immigration numbers, the most recent being criticism over his government’s treatment of a tent village of asylum-seekers who had camped outside government offices.

The government faced condemnation over reports that it moved the asylum-seekers to tented accommodation outside the city center in what critics said was an attempt to hide them from visiting St. Patricks Day tourists.

Varadkar will likely be remembered for his efforts to liberalize Ireland, easing the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.

The son of an Indian-born father and Irish mother, Varadkar became a doctor before first entering Irish parliament at the age of 27.

In 2015, as minister of health, Varadkar said he was gay on Irish national radio, joining a handful of other gay politicians in Ireland to support of the landmark Marriage Equality Bill, which allowed same-sex couples to marry.

Acknowledging that there would be “speculation as to the ‘real reason’ for [his] decision,” Varadkar said Wednesday that he had shared the “real reasons” for stepping down saying he has “nothing else lined up or in mind.”

This story has been updated with new developments.

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