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Tony Abbott: Ex-Australian PM to be appointed UK trade advisor

3 weeks ago 13
Tony AbbottImage copyright Getty Images

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is set to be appointed as an unpaid trade advisor to the UK government, the BBC understands.

Boris Johnson has rejected claims Mr Abbott is not suitable for the role over past comments on women, LGBT people and climate change.

The UK prime minister said he did "not agree with those sentiments".

But he said he "can't be expected" to agree with everyone who works with the government.

He added that Mr Abbott had been elected by the "great, liberal democratic nation of Australia," adding: "I think that speaks for itself."

The role is unpaid and it's understood he will have no direct role in future trade negotiations, instead advising ministers and officials.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he had "real concerns" and "wouldn't appoint" Mr Abbott if he were prime minister.

Mr Abbott, who was prime minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015, says he has had talks with UK ministers about a role but it has yet to be officially confirmed.

'Great conviction'

A group of equality activists - including actor Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies - have written an open letter against Mr Abbott's appointment.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Tony Abbott at the launch of sister Christine Forster's book in June

The letter says: "This is a man who described abortion as 'the easy way out' and suggested that men may be 'by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command'."

It said Mr Abbott "vigorously campaigned" against Australia's successful marriage equality referendum.

"For all these reasons and more besides, this man is not fit to be representing the UK as our trade envoy," the letter added.

But Mr Abbott's sister, Christine Forster, has defended him against claims of misogyny and homophobia.

"As a woman who has always been part of his life and who came out to him as gay in my early 40s, I know incontrovertibly that Tony is neither of those things," she wrote on Twitter.

"In reality he is a man of great conviction and intellect; an unabashed conservative but with great compassion, respect for others, and an indelible sense of doing what is right."

She added that he would be an "outstanding trade envoy for the UK" based on his record of delivering trade deals with Japan, China and South Korea.

Mr Abbott's position would be as a member of the UK board of trade, a panel of experts that is being put together to advise International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked on Sky News about concerns surrounding Mr Abbott's attitude towards women and homosexuality.

Mr Hancock said he did not believe Mr Abbott is homophobic or misogynistic, and when pushed, he added: "He is also an expert on trade."

'Nauseating'

The Labour Party has also written to the government urging it not to appoint Mr Abbott, saying to do so would be "completely unacceptable", and to "look instead for an expert with views on women and equalities that better reflect our British values."

Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Wes Streeting accused Mr Hancock of hypocrisy after the health secretary tweeted about the "fantastic" new LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education programme introduced in schools.

Mr Bryant said: "So why on earth would you countenance Tony Abbott as a trade envoy?" while Mr Streeting tweeted: "Matt, we know you're a social liberal with a decent voting record on LGBT equality. That's why your defence of Tony Abbott was even more nauseating."

In the Commons on Thursday, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss was asked about the possible appointment.

Following criticism from Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, Ms Truss said: "I think it's absolute hypocrisy to hear this type of argument from the Labour Party.

"This is a party that has never elected a female leader despite having the opportunity time and time again.

"The reality is they'd rather virtue signal and indulge in tokenism rather than take real action to improve the lives of women."

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