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Villiers quits front bench politics after declining prime minister's job offer

Departing Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she could not accept the government post offered by the prime minister. Picture by Matt Bohill/Pacemaker Press

THERESA Villiers's departure as secretary of state was last night greeted with contrasting sentiments from Stormont's two governing parties.

The Chipping Barnet MP announced the end of four-year stint in the north after a meeting in Downing Street with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Ms Villiers, who backed Andrea Leadsom for Tory party leader, said she had been offered a lesser role in government but felt she could not accept.

In a statement, she said she was leaving the post with the belief the region is more stable than it has been for years.

"I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve on the front bench for 11 years, first in the shadow cabinet, then as transport minister, and finally as secretary of state for Northern Ireland for four years in David Cameron's cabinet," she said.

Ms Villiers said she wanted to thank everyone who had supported her during her time in the north.

"I send my very best wishes to Northern Ireland's leaders as they continue the crucial process of implementing the two historic agreements that the cross-party talks I chaired were able to deliver," she said.

"Northern Ireland and its people will always have a very special place in my heart and I am confident that progress will continue to be made to embed peace, stability and prosperity there."

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said she "enjoyed working with" Mrs Villiers and wished her "all the best for the future".

However, former Stormont education minister John O'Dowd said that while he wished Ms Villiers's well personally, politically she would "not be missed".

"She has been the representative of a British government which inflicted austerity, welfare cuts and now Brexit on the people of the north," he said.

"She also played a negative role in dealing with the legacy of the conflict, continually placing obstacles in the path of families seeking access to truth."

The Upper Bann MLA also claimed the secretary of state's position was unnecessary and should be abolished with powers transferred to the assembly.

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