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Barnaby Joyce quits as Australian deputy prime minister and National party leader

Barnaby Joyce has finally caved under pressure and sensationally stepped down as leader of the Nationals and as Deputy Prime Minister.

After a tumultuous month for the beleaguered politician, Joyce announced his resignation in a dramatic press conference in Armidale this afternoon.

Pressure has been mounting on Joyce ever since it was revealed that he had an affair with his staffer Vikki Campion, who is now his partner. They are now living together and their baby is due in April.

The member for New England confirmed he would remain in the seat but would be moving to the backbench

“Can I say right from the start, this is never about me,” he said in the press conference. “It’s about the person in the weather board, something that manifestly expressed what the National Party is about.

“It’s about the person in many places, their right to transcend through the economic and social stratification of life.”

Joyce said it has been an incredible privilege to serve as Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

It went from bad to worse for Joyce this week. Thursday, he denied claims of sexual harassment against him as “spurious and defamatory” as he faces fresh questions about an 11-day road trip he undertook in December.

The Deputy PM said there has been a “litany of allegations” none of which have been sustained.

“Might I say right here, any person in any political party always says, the leaking, the backgrounding, all that, it will destroy not only our government, it will destroy any government,” he said at the press conference today.

“Now, might I say, with the last allegation that was in the paper today, I have asked that be referred to the police. I’ve asked for the right of the person who’s made the allegation and I’ve asked for my right of defence that be referred to the police,” he said.

“But it’s quite evident that you can’t go to the Despatch Box with issues like that surrounding you.”

Joyce said the media attention was completely and utterly unwarranted.

He said he came to the decision to step down following the allegations describing it as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Obviously, it was confirmed by the allegations that I read in the paper. I just thought that has to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said.

Just hours ago, Nine News political reporter Lane Calcutt asked the Deputy PM if he was going anywhere following the sexual harassment complaint.

“Let’s just do the presser,” he said.

A spokesman for Joyce told The Daily Telegraph he had been made “indirectly aware” of the claim which he described as “spurious and defamatory”.

“He said allegations of wrongdoing should be immediately referred to police so that the veracity of any claim could be properly tested,” the spokesman said.

Joyce was facing a formal leadership challenge before the dramatic announcement today.

The warning from Andrew Broad, member for the Victorian seat of Mallee, was the first public sign of a move against Joyce since his affair with a staffer was revealed.

Earlier today speaking from Washington, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dodged questions about whether he wanted Joyce to remain as the Nationals leader.

“Barnaby Joyce is the leader of the National Party of Australia. As leader of the National Party of Australia in a Coalition government, he is my Deputy Prime Minister,”Turnbull said. “The leadership of the National Party is a matter for the National Party and I’ve been at great pains to stress that I have not, nor has my party, sought to influence in any way the deliberations of the National Party, any more than I’d expect the National Party to seek to influence deliberations of the Liberal Party.”

Turnbull was accused of making “a shocking error of judgment” with Joyce who has four daughters. Joyce hit back by calling the prime minister “inept”.

Joyce said he has a lot of things he needed to do and want to help his colleagues keep their seats and spoke of his commitment to the people of New England.

“I don’t think anybody can deny the work I’ve done for the people of New England, whether it is the mobile phone towers, the Scone Sale Yards, it goes on,” he said.

“I just noted the other day, the dementia unit opened up and we got the money for that and on and on it goes. The upgrade of the airport here. We were part of that, said Joyce.

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