Barnaby Joyce is the new leader of Nationals after defeating Michael McCormack in spill

Barnaby Joyce will return to the nation’s second highest office, marking a political comeback three years after losing the deputy prime ministership to scandal.

Mr Joyce defeated former leader Michael McCormack in a very close contest this morning after years of seeking a return to his party’s leadership.

Queensland Senator Matt Canavan moved a spill motion to bring on the leadership vote at a partyroom meeting this morning.

Mr Joyce launched a similar challenge in February last year, where he was unsuccessful.

He resigned as leader and deputy prime minister in 2018 after facing sustained pressure to quit following revelations he had an affair with a former staffer.

The change in Nationals leadership could have major implications for the Morrison government with the junior coalition partner set for a ministerial reshuffle.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has retained his role as Nationals deputy leader.

There had been disquiet in the party about the Prime Minister’s increasing support of a net zero by 2050 emissions target.

Critics of Mr McCormack had said he lacked cut-through and had not established enough of a brand differentiation to the Liberal Party.

Joyce failed to topple McCormack at his last attempt in February last year but has prevailed at his second crack.

Joyce lost his job in 2018 after a major scandal stemming from his extra-marital affair with a staffer who has now given birth to the couple’s two children, as well as sexual harassment allegations he strongly denies.

Earlier, McCormack vowed not to stand aside.