Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Bill English refuses to speculate on who will take on Foreign Affairs role

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully will leave his role in March. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully will leave his role in March. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Bill English will not rule out trading away the Foreign Affairs portfolio in post-election coalition talks, despite the importance of the role in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US.

Asked about his intentions for the role while in London, English said it was an important time in international relations as New Zealand sets about trying to secure free trade agreements with the European Union, the United Kingdom and salvaging what it can from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Asked if the job was too important to hand over to a coalition partner such as NZ First leader Winston Peters or one of his MPs after the election, English said such questions would be addressed after the election.

"I'm not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out. I'm not going to speculate on ministerial appointments after an election that is still some time away."

In the past, leaders have ruled out in advance handing over key portfolios such as Finance.

Peters was Foreign Affairs minister under the former Labour Government. While Peters may not want the role again, former Labour MP Shane Jones is widely expected to stand for NZ First in 2017 and Peters may push for Jones to get it.

Jones is yet to confirm he will run for Parliament again but has decided not to renew his role as ambassador for Pacific Development when it ends in May, or take up another role in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

That could be problematic for a Government which is seeking free trade agreements with the EU and United Kingdom. While Jones is pro free trade, Peters opposed the free trade agreement with China. He also opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership and has berated the Government for halting free trade talks with Russia.

English also refused to be drawn on who would replace Foreign Minister Murray McCully who will leave the role in May after deciding not to run for Parliament again.

In his reshuffle after becoming Prime Minister in December, English kept McCully on as Foreign Minister until March, saying he needed McCully's expertise for his first few months in the role given the uncertainty that would spring from Brexit and the election of Trump.

English said he had not yet turned his mind to who would replace McCully. "We are certainly enjoying the benefit of the extensive experience and hard work of the current foreign minister."

As well as the handover of Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Jerry Mateparae is taking over as UK High Commissioner from Sir Lockwood Smith in about nine weeks time.

English said that was a critical role and he expected Mateparae to continue with the work of Smith, and ensure there was clarity about New Zealand's interests.

"It is going to continue to be important. As a country we need to work out how to roll with the changes and no one is quite sure what path it is going to follow. So having good, competent, practical people on the ground is going to help."

- NZ Herald

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