New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern dismissed Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway on Wednesday over allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer.
“The minister has shown a lack of judgment over a period of 12 months. In undertaking this relationship he has opened himself up to accusations of improperly using his office,” Ardern said in a surprise news conference.
She said the minister had told her the relationship was consensual.
The announcement comes after opposition National Party leader Judith Collins said she had passed on an allegation about a Labour Party MP to the prime minister.
Ardern confirmed she was informed of the matter by Collins and said her office later received an email from a third party making the allegations.
Lees-Galloway said he accepted the prime minister’s decision and apologised.
“I have acted completely inappropriately in my position and cannot continue as a minister,” he said in a statement.
Ardern said the minister had also decided not to stand at the next election, due on Sept. 19.
The prime minister’s popularity has skyrocketed due to her response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has left the country largely unscathed, making her the favourite to win the election.
Her Labour Party, governing in a coalition with the Greens and the nationalist New Zealand First party, will face the National Party in what is expected to be a pandemic-dominated campaign.
But Labour has faced some turbulence in the recent weeks.
Lees-Galloway is the second senior minister to leave Ardern’s office this month, after Health Minister David Clark quit following slip ups in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and personal mistakes.
A National party lawmaker also quit parliament on Tuesday after being accused of sending a sexually explicit image to a young woman.