Theresa May's departure prompts fresh Brexit concerns across Ireland

Theresa May signals her intention to leave Downing Street on June 7. Picture by Yui Mok /PA Photos

THERESA May's departure from Downing Street has been met with warnings that her successor must not sacrifice Ireland's wellbeing for the sake of delivering Brexit.

While there were tributes to the Tory leader after she announced plans yesterday morning to vacate Downing Street in a fortnight's time, politicians north and south voiced concern about the increased potential for a no deal Brexit.

Speaking in Dublin taoiseach Leo Varadkar praised the British prime minister, describing her as an "honourable and deeply passionate" politician who did her best for her country.

"Politicians throughout the EU have admired her tenacity, her courage and her determination during what has been a difficult and challenging time," he said.

"Theresa May strove to chart a new future for the United Kingdom – I want to wish her the very best for the future."

But the Fine Gael leader highlighted the potential for an advocate of hard Brexit entering Downing Street and the possibility of them ditching the withdrawal agreement.

"We may see the election of a Eurosceptic prime minister who wants to repudiate the withdrawal agreement and go for no-deal, or we may even see a new British government that wants a closer relationship with the EU and goes for a second referendum," Mr Varadkar said.

Tanáiste Simon Coveney said he did not envisage the EU offering the new prime minister a "better or very different deal to what was on offer to Theresa May".

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was critical of Mrs May's time in office and warned that the Tory leadership contest should not distract from the threats posed by Brexit or derail efforts to restore Stormont.

She said the outgoing prime minister had set unrealisable red lines on Brexit and agreed a confidence and supply deal with the DUP that had damaged the north's political process.

"Following the British general election, Theresa May prioritised a deal with the DUP at Westminster over re-establishing the powersharing institutions – this Tory/DUP deal has had a negative influence on the political process," the Dublin Central TD said.

Mrs McDonald said people wanted a "resolution to the impasse" that had led to Stormont's collapse more than two years ago.

"An agreement can be reached and a deal can be done but the process must not be derailed nor responsibility abdicated in respect of people's rights and agreements," she said.

Arlene Foster paid tribute to Mrs May's "selfless service" to the UK.

"Whilst at times there were differences in our approach, particularly on Brexit, we enjoyed a respectful and courteous relationship," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mrs May's resignation illustrated how Brexit was a "fundamentally undeliverable prospect".

He said the UK's efforts to leave the EU had cost its government 38 ministers and two prime ministers.

"It is a doctrine that seeks to sink an axe of simplicity into the delicate layers of political relationships across Ireland and it has broken old political certainties in Britain," he said.

The Foyle MLA said a new prime minister needed to recognise their predecessor's mistakes and revoke Article 50.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the next prime minister would face the same issues and must be prepared to act with "realism and honesty".

"While she attempted several times to get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, she had her hands tied through mutually contradictory red lines over Brexit," he said.

He urged the next prime minister to push for a so-called People's Vote and allow people to remain in the EU.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the Tory leader needed to heal the divisions caused by Brexit but maintain the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin said Mrs May's fate was a "reflection of the emerging and ongoing crisis in British politics".

"The coming leadership election within the Conservative Party has the potential to further destabilise the Brexit process," he said.

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