Christopher Luxon confirmed as National Party leader with Nicola Willis as deputy

Former Air New Zealand CEO and first-term MP Christopher Luxon has been confirmed as the new National Party leader with Wellington-based MP Nicola Willis as his deputy. 

Luxon replaces Judith Collins, who was ousted as leader last week in a vote of no confidence, over the way she demoted MP Simon Bridges in a late-night press release, without first consulting with the caucus.  

Interim leader Shane Reti, who was Collins' deputy, said a new leader would be chosen on Tuesday. Newshub confirmed that Bridges, who led the party from February 2018 to May 2020, was keen for another go, but he pulled out, announcing support for Luxon.

"This morning I met with Chris Luxon and had a great discussion," Bridges wrote on Twitter. "I am withdrawing from the leadership contest and will be backing Chris. He will make a brilliant National leader and Prime Minister."

In a statement confirming the new leadership team, Luxon said it was "a tremendous privilege" to lead the National Party. He thanked his colleagues for the "confidence" they placed in him. 

"I'm delighted the caucus has elected Nicola Willis as deputy leader. She will do an incredible job and we will be a formidable team," Luxon said. 

"The unified National Party that Nicola and I lead will work every day to represent all New Zealanders, earn back their trust and confidence, and deliver for them.

"Now, more than ever, New Zealand needs the National Party to offer them hope, ambition and drive to meet the challenges of the coming decade."

Luxon, 51, said he came to politics because "I know how to solve problems and get things done".

"I have built a career out of reversing the fortunes of under-performing companies and I'll bring that real-world experience to this role. We are the new National Party that New Zealand needs."

Bridges told reporters on Tuesday that Luxon will make a great leader. 

National leader Christopher Luxon.
National leader Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Supplied

"I'm excited about Christopher Luxon. I had a really good chat with him. I see his heart, his values, and I think he's going to be a great leader of the National Party and ultimately, a strong Prime Minister," he told reporters. 

"He's got a really clear sense of what he's about and what he wants to do for New Zealand and that excites me."

Newshub understands former Prime Minister Sir John Key had been urging Luxon to be strategic and bide his time for National's leadership until after the next election. 

Luxon takes the helm after a tumultuous week for the National Party. 

Collins, who was struggling in the polls, released the statement about Bridges late last Wednesday night at a time when Bridges was rumoured to be eyeing up the leadership. 

Collins announced she'd demoted Bridges over an allegation of "serious misconduct".

"The case relates to comments made by Mr Bridges to a female caucus colleague at a function a number of years ago," Collins said in her statement released at 9:20pm. 

"Having been made aware of the seriousness of the complaint for the first time and the ongoing distress this has caused the complainant, I was left with no option but to immediately demote Simon Bridges and relieve him of his portfolio responsibilities."

It turned out it was National MP Jacqui Dean who, about five years ago, complained to then-Deputy Prime Minister Bill English about comments Bridges made in front of her and other colleagues.

"At the time there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind and with the recent reviews that have occurred in Parliament the feelings have been brought back up," Dean said in a statement last Thursday. 

National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis.
National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis. Photo credit: Supplied

"What matters to me is that all of us have a clear understanding of what behaviour we should expect in a modern workplace environment. Simon and I have spoken a number of times over the past few hours and he has reiterated his apology."

Dean later said she was "caught up in a political power-play", and revealed to the Otago Daily Times that she informed Collins weeks ago about the comments Bridges made. 

Collins told Newshub it was a "matter of principle".

"Every woman and every man should feel safe in the workplace and what is really important is that you don't ignore allegations by sweeping them under the carpet."

Bridges said last Thursday it was "desperate" of Collins to release the statement about him. Later that day, Collins was voted out as leader by the National Party caucus in a vote of no confidence over the way she handled the situation. 

Bridges said he'd already apologised to Dean. 

"Five or six years ago, the National Party caucus had a full day at Premier House. At lunchtime I was out talking with a number of members of Parliament and at some point Jacqui Dean joined that," he told reporters. 

Simon Bridges pulled out of the leadership race.
Simon Bridges pulled out of the leadership race. Photo credit: Newshub

"We discussed our wives, our children; I can remember talking about the fact I had two boys and I wanted a girl and I engaged in some old wives' tales about that and how to have a girl and I entirely accept and am regretful of that day, because I acknowledge that some of what I said was clearly inappropriate.

"Sometime after that, Bill English - who at that time was Deputy Prime Minister - called me into his office and discussed this. He made clear that Jacqui Dean was deeply offended by what had been said. I was unaware of that but very regretful and apologised for that and learned a valuable lesson at that time. 

"I then went and apologised fulsomely to Jacqui Dean and she accepted that apology. I regret what I said. I wasn't aware of its impact on Jacqui."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been tight-lipped about the National Party leadership until Tuesday. 

"I've been up against four different leaders of the National Party. But regardless of the change in leadership of the Opposition, my focus remains the same: navigating New Zealand through this incredibly tough period of a pandemic and the economic impacts of it," she told reporters.  

"My message to whoever takes on the mantle is to remember how important it is to focus on the things that New Zealand wants us to focus on."

You can read more about the National Party's recent troubled history here