National MP Simon Bridges says he regrets "inappropriate" remarks he made a few years ago that upset his colleague Jacqui Dean, but he will still "consider" running for the leadership.
His comments came after a tumultuous morning, with a three-hour National Party caucus meeting culminating in Judith Collins being ousted as leader. A new leadership team will be confirmed next Tuesday.
Deputy Shane Reti, the now interim leader, told reporters on Thursday Collins was booted by the caucus in a vote of no confidence, over the way she issued a media statement late on Wednesday night announcing that Bridges had been stripped of his portfolios 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 the statement issued 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 turns out it was National MP Jacqui Dean who, about five years ago, complained about comments Bridges made in front of her and other colleagues, back when Bill English was Deputy Prime Minister.
"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 on Thursday.
"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."
Reti said the caucus did not support the way Collins issued her statement about Bridges and Dean without consulting them.
"The caucus was concerned with the content of the press release and the process by which it was issued. The caucus moved for a vote of no confidence in the leader and that motion was successful," he told reporters.
"As a result, Judith Collins is no longer the leader of the National Party, and according to party convention, I have assumed the role of interim leader until the caucus meets again on Tuesday to choose a new leader."
Bridges, as he arrived at Parliament on Thursday morning, said it was "desperate" of Collins to release the statement about him.
It followed speculation that Bridges was going to run as leader. The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found 40.7 percent support for Bridges as leader compared to 23.2 percent for Collins.
Bridges held a press conference at Parliament to provide more information about the allegations raised about him.
"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.
"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."
MP Mark Mitchell and former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon are in the running for the leadership and a decision will be made next week. But Bridges said he's not ruling out running himself.
"I haven't decided that. I want to consider that over the next day or two. I think today, in particular, I'm an older, possibly wiser guy than I was certainly five or six years ago - but even a couple of years ago when I was leader of the National Party.
"That's something that I'm going to consider.
"I was genuine in my clear statements about not having an intention to stand where things were at. That's changed. I'm going to consider it. I do think I'm older and a bit wiser. I do think I have a sense of what New Zealand needs at this time. I'm going to think that through."
Collins wrote on Twitter it was "a privilege" to serve as leader.
"It has taken huge stamina and resolve, and has been particularly difficult because of a variety of factors," she said.
"I was confided in by a female colleague regarding her allegation of serious misconduct against a senior colleague, that I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously. If I hadn't, then I felt that I wouldn't deserve the role.
"I didn't ask for the allegation to be given to me."
Collins said she's looking forward to spending more time with her family.