National's leader Judith Collins has demoted Simon Bridges following an accusation he made inappropriate comments to a female National MP several years ago.
The shock news came in a media release from Collins this evening and after much speculation that Bridges was considering a tilt at the top job.
RNZ understands Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean made the complaint in early 2017 and Bridges was spoken to, and then personally apologised.
Bridges is accused of making crude remarks in front of Dean and other MPs several years ago during a caucus function. Bill English was National Party leader at the time.
Dean has been approached for a response.
Collins said she had only just learned how serious the complaint was and had no choice but to immediately demote the Tauranga MP and strip him of his portfolio responsibilities, with the unanimous support of the board.
Collins said the party would not tolerate harassment and intimidation of any person.