Mark Rutte will not stand for re-election as prime minister in a general election triggered by the early collapse of his fourth cabinet.
The prime minister told MPs in a short statement that he would be quitting politics when the current caretaker period ends.
“In recent days there has been speculation about what my motivation was. The only answer is: the Netherlands,” Rutte said.
“My position must be seen in that light. On Sunday I decided that I will not be available as leader of the VVD party in the upcoming elections.”
Rutte’s unexpected statement came at the start of a debate on Monday morning on the collapse of his cabinet last week, after the four parties were unable to agree on migration.
The VVD, led by Rutte, had demanded strict new curbs on asylum applications, including a cap on family members joining refugees who had been granted temporary status, but coalition partners D66 and the ChristenUnie said the proposal went too far.
The parties had agreed on other measures, including introducing a two-tier asylum system in which people facing personal persecution were given priority over those fleeing war zones.
Socialist party leader Lilian Marijnissen called Rutte’s decision to step down “sensible” and called for elections to be held as soon as possible.
“The Rutte era has done the Netherlands a lot of damage,” she said. “If you look at the public sector, healthcare and education, a million people at risk of falling into poverty in what’s supposed to be the richest country in the world.
“Rutte IV was a continuation of Rutte III where the same people took responsibility for the problems but didn’t solve them.”
Other leaders, including Caroline van der Plas of the BBB and Farid Azarkan of Denk, echoed the view that Rutte had taken a “responsible” decision.
— Caroline van der Plas (@lientje1967) July 10, 2023
De juiste beslissing op het verkeerde moment. Rutte had veel eerder moeten opstappen. Deze premier heeft teveel kapot gemaakt. Tijd voor een eerlijk en rechtvaardig Nederland. #tk2023 #Rutte pic.twitter.com/mDzS4VAri2
— Farid Azarkan (@F_azarkan) July 10, 2023
Pieter Omtzigt, the independent MP who played a key role in exposing the childcare benefit scandal that triggered the resignation of Rutte’s last government, said the time was ripe for Rutte to quit politics.
“His coalition partners were clearly so exasperated with him that it will be very difficult to form a coalition in future,” he said.
“It’s in the interests of the country that a decent national government emerges, and that’s not what we had in the last few weeks.”
Confidence motion withdrawn
Sylvana Simons, MP for the left-wing Bij1 party, said Rutte’s decision was “good news” and the prime minister should step down immediately.
“We’re done with the Rutte era,” she said. “I think the country needs a clean break as soon as possible, and that means today.”
GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver withdrew a motion of no confidence in Rutte that had been tabled for Monday’s debate, allowing him to continue as prime minister in a caretaker capacity until the election.
“Rutte has indicated that he is putting the interests of the country before those of his party. So we have confidence in him again to lead the country as caretaker prime minister,” Klaver said.