Tense times at Waitangi after Simon Bridges rules out working with Winston Peters

The AM Show 05/02/2020

Opposition leader Simon Bridges denies it was awkward coming face to face with Winston Peters at Waitangi. 

Bridges made it clear earlier this week he would not work with Peters and New Zealand First if given the option after the September election.

But when the two met - in the first time since his announcement - Bridges says "it wasn't uncomfortable".

"I'm not interested in Winston Peters," Bridges told The AM Show on Wednesday. "The fact that we've ruled New Zealand First out - no ifs, no buts - probably hurts the guy and makes it quite clear, and with certainty and choice, the situation," he said. 

A vote for New Zealand First is a vote for Labour and the Greens.

"That's how it looked yesterday, as they were all there, in a sense, ganging up on me."

Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien said the tension between Bridges and Peters was palpable. 

"Simon Bridges and Winston Peters' relationship had absolutely deteriorated - that was writ large at Waitangi yesterday," O'Brien told The AM Show. 

"[Green Party co-leader]James Shaw, poor bugger, pulled back to separate them  - he was Switzerland between Winston Peters and Simon Bridges as they walked onto the upper marae during that powhiri," she said. 

"It's never been uglier. There's a lot of utu there, there's a lot of bad blood  that runs deep...there's just utter disdain between those two so it was inevitable, I think, that they could not work together."

When asked if hypothetically he would step aside as leader if National relied on NZ First to get into Government following the election and the rest of the party was prepared to cut a deal, Bridges denied that was an option.

"It's not going to happen," he said, adding that when he told the board and individual MPs of the plan to distance National from Peters there was "spontaneous applause" and "unanimous agreement".

"It's this simple - if Winston Peters or some other New Zealand First leader calls me I'm not answering the call and I won't be making the call to them."

Bridges' decision not to work with Peters follows that of former Prime Minister John Key, who ruled out an alliance in 2005 and 2008.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe