Barclay's murky departure casts shadow on PM

6:10 pm on 21 June 2017

Power Play - Effectively resigning from Parliament was the only option left to the National MP Todd Barclay.

Bill English and Todd Barclay

Todd Barclay fronted to media yesterday to apologise to but refused to answer questions. Photo: RNZ / Supplied

He will see out the rest of the term and leave at the election, but a more immediate resignation would have been justified.

A departure in September means the MP for Clutha-Southland does not have to put 'resigned his seat' on his CV, and gives him time to line up another job before he relinquishes his parliamentary pay cheque.

While this eases the pressure on the Prime Minister, the events of the last few days have cast a shadow over Bill English's credibility.

Even while answering questions about Mr Barclay's imminent departure, Mr English was being pressed about his own response over the last 18 months or so.

Within weeks of exchanging details via text message last year about Mr Barclay making a recording of an electorate staff member and a taxpayer-funded confidentiality agreement, Mr English told RNZ he was not aware of any specific problems.

He also said he had no concerns about what was happening in his old electorate.

Mr English said he had not been sure, when he answered those questions, what he could say publicly as he believed it was still a confidential matter.

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PM Bill English 21 June 2017

Bill English speaks to media today. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

But the handling of this controversy over the last 48 hours has been a shambles, and has exposed Mr English to accusations of deceit and cover-ups.

He said making a statement to the police hardly constitutes a cover-up.

The Labour Party can hardly believe its luck after a couple of trying months of its own.

But this may not be the end of the matter for Mr Barclay.

Police are now looking very carefully at information that has come to light in the last few days.

This will no doubt include an ambiguous comment from Mr Barclay yesterday about a statement Mr English gave to police last year, in which he confirmed the MP personally told him about recording the staffer.

Speaking to reporters afterwards the MP said he had read that statement and "accepted it".

However, that could either mean he accepted he had made the recording, or that he accepted that was Mr English's view of what happened. If it is the former, it is an admission of an act he denied for months.

What he meant could not be nailed down, as he refused to take questions and was nowhere to be found at Parliament today.

The police investigation into the original complaint did not find enough evidence to execute a search warrant for the dictaphone or a transcript of the recording, and because of his refusal to front, investigators were unable to interview Mr Barclay.

Mr Barclay could also be relying on a legal argument that leaving the dictaphone in the office was unintentional, letting him off the hook for an offence under the Crimes Act.

Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay at Parliament on Tuesday 20 June.

Todd Barclay Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

Because police could not interview him however, they could not make a judgement about his motivations.

Police have also come under criticism for the way they handled the Barclay operation.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters draws an unfavourable comparison between the enthusiasm with which the police pursued cameraman Bradley Ambrose over the 'teapot tapes' and how he says they "pulled their punches" when an MP was on the other side of the charge sheet.

Labour Leader Andrew Little, left, and Winston Peters

Andrew Little and Winston Peters questioned Mr English's involvement in the matter in Parliament today. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The National Party will now be wanting to put this week firmly behind it, and concentrate on its election-year Congress in Wellington.

However while Mr Barclay remains a National MP, any further consequences - either by police action or revelations in the media - will continue to drag on his party, and potentially the Prime Minister.

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