Patrick Gower: Gerry Brownlee poised to become Minister of Foreign Affairs

Gerry Brownlee Sun Jianguo
Gerry Brownlee's bearhug with a high-ranking Chinese official shows why he's next in line for Foreign Affairs Minister, says Patrick Gower (File)

OPINION: Gerry Brownlee is first in line to become New Zealand's next Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Several Beehive sources have told Newshub it is expected Brownlee will take over when Murray McCully steps down on May 1.

For many people reading this, the words "diplomacy" and "Brownlee" probably don't really go together. Given he actually barged through airport security while Transport Minister, it is fair to wonder what Gezza could do once let loose on the international stage.

But the truth is it is a no-brainer for Bill English to give Brownlee the job.

That's because English can count on him.

Brownlee is good to go - he has more than cut his teeth in international affairs as Defence Minister.

And with Donald Trump making the world so unpredictable, English needs someone who can handle the job.

As has been illustrated with the Muslim ban and the Trump phone call earlier in the year, and now the Syria strike, Trump foreign affairs will continue to dominate domestic politics.

Kiwis are very wary of Trump and it is easy to see a tricky foreign issue coming up on the way to the election.

And for all his brusqueness, his barging around and his cantankerous outbursts, Brownlee is actually a diplomat. As English knows all too well, he's kept the National Party together over the years.

Brownlee enjoys his work in the foreign sphere. Defence has taken him close to the tricky South China Sea issue, where New Zealand walks an incredibly fine diplomatic line.

And if you want proof that Brownlee really is a diplomat, just look at the bearhug he got from Admiral Sun Jianguo in 2016, who is in charge of China's People's Liberation Army. The Admiral reports directly to President Xi Jinping, is in charge of a massive army and navy - and is Brownlee's mate.

The Brownlee bearhug is why I've been predicting Brownlee as Minister of Foreign Affairs since June last year.

All of these qualifications put him far ahead of his competitors Jonathan Coleman and Chris Finlayson.

Then there are the internal politics. Brownlee wants the job - he wants to be Foreign Affairs Minister.

Brownlee is an incredibly powerful figure within National. He took on the Christchurch rebuild and held onto it for longer than he wanted.

He is a loyal servant. If he wants this so badly, it will be hard for English to refuse.

And of course, as a loyal servant, Brownlee would give the job away again if he had to in post-election negotiations with New Zealand First.

The travel involved would mean Brownlee would likely have to give up his powerful role as Leader of the House, which essentially means running National's parliamentary strategy.  That would take him out of his integral role in the "Kitchen Cabinet" that runs the Government, further changing the dynamic there and freshening National's management.

While he would likely give up his Christchurch portfolio, I think Brownlee would try and hang onto Defence as he is just taking control there.

And given the "Winston Factor", Brownlee's role in Foreign Affairs may only be until the election - he'll want to hang on to something.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's political editor.

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