Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has resigned ahead of the European elections in June. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

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Irish PM Varadkar unexpectedly quits ahead of European Parliament elections


Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has resigned ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.

Speaking at a snap press conference on March 20, Varadkar declared he was also stepping down as the leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party (EPP) with immediate effect.

“One part of leadership is knowing when the time has come to pass on the baton to somebody else, and then having the courage to do it,” he told reporters.

“That time is now.”

Varadkar went on to say he would formally hand over the position of Taoiseach to his successor at the earliest possible opportunity, which he suggested would be when the Irish Parliament returns from its Easter break.

Visibly emotional and speaking about the reasons for his sudden and unexpected resignation, he said there were both “personal and political” elements at play behind the decision.

The outgoing leader claimed his stepping down was, in part, a strategic move aimed at aiding his party in the upcoming European elections, as well as the country’s general elections in March next year.

“I believe this Government can be re-elected and believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next [Parliament],” he said.

“But, after careful consideration and some soul searching, I believe a new Taoiseach and a new [party] leader will be better placed than me to achieve that.

“There are loyal colleagues and good friends contesting the local and European elections and I want to give them the best chance possible. And I think they will have a better chance under a new leader,” Varadkar said.

“I know inevitably, there will be speculation as to the ‘real reason’ for my decision. These are the real reasons,” he added.

“That’s it. I have nothing else lined up. I have nothing in mind. I have no definite personal or political plans but I am really looking forward to having the time to think about them.”

Varadkar’s resignation comes after the crushing defeat of two Government-backed referenda earlier in March, both of which aimed to replace lines in the Irish Constitution referring to a woman’s place in the family home.

While initial polling had both votes passing comfortably, public opinion shifted dramatically in the final days before the ballots.

Both of the proposed changes were shot down by the electorate, with one receiving the largest percentage of “no” votes than any other in the country’s history.

Many in support of the changes blamed the Taoiseach’s Government for the failure of both referenda, piling additional pressure onto a ruling coalition already plagued with scandal regarding the country’s State-funded broadcaster and the proposed introduction of new hate-speech laws.