Former Prime Minister and National leader Bill English has resigned after 27 years in politics saying he has no regrets.
But he has not nominated a successor and National MPs will spend the next two weeks deciding among themselves who will take the top job.
Flanked by dozens of National MPs and members of his family, English was at times emotional when recounting his life in the public eye of politics.
“After careful consideration, and talking it over with my family I have decided that now is the right time for me to step aside from the leadership of the National Party and embark on new personal and professional challenges.”
English told his MPs of his plans to resign half an hour before at National’s weekly caucus meeting but says he informed Steven Joyce and his Deputy Paula Bennett a week ago.
He said he was confident he was handing over the party in as strong a position as it could be, not being in government.
He added that he was confident he would have had the support of his caucus through to 2020 “if they could see I was determined to do that” but it was a personal decision to step aside.
His resignation will take effect on February 27 and he will deliver his valedictory speech on Thursday, March 1.
English says this would give the party’s new leader the time and the best possible opportunity to prepare National for the 2020 election.
However, he would not say who should take over, only saying it was now a matter for the Caucus.
But he is not expecting things to get messy within the party as the new leader is selected.
“This is a caucus that did me an enormous favour by executing a very civil and successful translation when John Key unexpectedly left. They are quite capable, in my view, of doing that again.”
When Key stood down in late 2016, he anointed English as his replacement. Asked about why his hasn’t taken a similar approach, he says it’s the role of the caucus to choose a leader.”
He got emotional when talking about his family, at one point stopping to gather himself.
“Through all our time together as a family, we have lived with the demands of public service, your strength and tolerance has enabled my career.”
He recounted his efforts in driving his government’s social investment initiatives, the rebuilding of Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake, facilitating work that “made a real difference” between the Crown and Maori and, of course, his time as Prime Minister.
As for what’s next, English hasn’t got anything concrete planned.
But he does say he would like to look into business opportunities and to work with his family, which he says he has a lot of interests in common.
“I want the opportunity to be able to start again on a different life and for our family to be able to live without politics.”
‘A safe pair of hands’
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says very few serve for so long at such a high level but garner the respect of many.
“Bill has worked tirelessly as Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and Opposition Leader among his many public roles.
She says he is a man of clear convictions who has always had a genuine concern for the well-being of New Zealanders and gave a huge portion of his working life to serving on their behalf.
“The impact of public service on a politician’s family cannot be understated. In the 27 years, Bill served as an MP, with the support of his wife Mary, his children were born and grew up. They have made great sacrifices so he could do his job to the best of his ability.
English's predecessor, former Prime Minister John Key, said he was saddened to hear his close friend is leaving Parliament.
"Bill has given remarkable service to a party and a country he loves.His dry wit outstanding economic leadership and rolled Rs will be missed. Enjoy your new life mate.”
Meanwhile, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says English was “a safe pair of hands” during his time as Finance Minister, leading New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis, a dairy downturn and the Christchurch earthquake.
"A straight-up farm boy from Dipton, he is a guy that many New Zealanders could relate to.
"He demonstrated he wasn’t just an astute manager of the nation’s finances, but through his approach to social investment revealed he was a caring leader who really wanted to make a difference for the less-well-off," Milne says.
Here's English's statement.
National Party Leader Bill English has today announced he will resign as Leader of the National Party and leave Parliament.
Mr English says his resignation as Leader will take effect on 27 February and that he intends to deliver his valedictory speech on 1 March.
“It’s been an enormous privilege to serve New Zealanders since being elected to Parliament in 1990.
“Over 27 years I have been privileged to work alongside so many people to improve our country. I am proud of the innovative work done as a Health Minister in the 90's, and then as Finance Minister through the GFC, helping to stabilise and grow the economy and to rebuild Christchurch.
“In recent years I enjoyed the development of Social Investment and new ways of the Crown working with Māori to make a real difference, and I was honoured to lead New Zealand as Prime Minister.
“National’s two-day Caucus meeting last week confirmed to me that our team has the talent, the ideas and the energy to return to government in 2020. It’s important that National’s new Leader has the time and the best possible opportunity to achieve that.
“So I believe now is the right time to step aside and to embark on new personal and professional opportunities.
“I’ve served with some outstanding politicians and I want to thank my Parliamentary colleagues and the National Party for the trust and support they have given me.
“I’m also indebted to the people and communities of Clutha-Southland - and before that Wallace - who sent me to Parliament and kept me grounded for so many years.
“To our supporters, thank you for keeping your faith in us through nine years in Government, and through the change of government. I know that our MPs will continue to represent your ambition for New Zealand.
“Most importantly I would like to thank my family. Mary and our children, Luke, Thomas, Maria, Rory, Bart and Xavier.
“For all our time together we have lived with demands of public service. Your strength and tolerance has enabled my career. You have been my inspiration and pride and I now look forward to a new life together.”
And below is a statement from PM Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today paid tribute to outgoing National Party Leader Bill English.
“Bill has worked tirelessly as Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and Opposition Leader among his many public roles. Very few serve for so long at such a high level, but garner the respect of many.
“He has always stood for what he believes in. He is a man of clear convictions who has always had a genuine concern for the well-being of New Zealanders, and gave a huge portion of his working life to serving on their behalf.
“The impact of public service on a politician’s family cannot be understated. In the 27 years Bill served as an MP, with the support of his wife Mary, his children were born, and grew up. They have made great sacrifices so he could do his job to the best of his ability.
“I wish Bill and his family all the best for the future,” says Jacinda Ardern.