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Tony Abbott: Ministers defend ex-Australian PM over Brexit trade role

3 weeks ago 18
Tony AbbottImage copyright EPA Image caption Tony Abbott is visiting the UK

Ministers have defended former Australian PM Tony Abbott amid reports that he is being lined up for a role in post-Brexit trade talks.

Trade Minister Greg Hands told MPs he welcomed Mr Abbott's desire to "help this country out".

Opposition and some Tory MPs say he is unfit to represent the UK due to his views on climate change and past "misogynist" and "homophobic" comments.

Mr Abbott says he has had talks about a role but nothing is official yet.

Asked in the Commons about Mr Abbott's potential position as a policy adviser to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Mr Hands said: "No appointments have been confirmed, but personally I welcome the fact that a former prime minister of Australia is willing to help this country out."

Earlier, 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."

Reports that Mr Abbott, who was Australia's prime minister between 2013 and 2015 is being lined up to work alongside Liz Truss have been met with anger from UK opposition parties and some Conservative MPs.

'Bad idea'

Last week, Labour's shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry described Mr Abbott as a "Trump-worshipping misogynist," adding that it was "staggering" that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would think he was "the right person to represent our country overseas".

On Wednesday Conservative former minister Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Women and Equalities select committee, said appointing Mr Abbott to a Brexit trade talks role would be "such a bad idea".

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Media captionCaroline Nokes says appointing former Australian PM Tony Abbott as a UK trade representative would be "awful"

Speaking to Jo Coburn on the BBC's Politics Live, Ms Nokes said: "I am not sure I can come up with words for how awful I think it is."

She described the former Australian PM as a "misogynist," who has "very poor views on LGBTQ rights".

She added: "I just don't think this is a man who should be anywhere near our board of trade."

Mr Abbott who led Australia's Liberal Party between 2009 and 2015, was challenged about some of his past comments at a select committee hearing on Tuesday.

Labour MP Claudia Webbe quoted remarks attributed to him in 2012, that men were by physiology or temperament, more adapted than women to exercise authority and issue commands, and asked if, in the light of that opinion, he would have difficulty accepting the authority of Liz Truss.

Mr Abbott said he "wasn't sure" he had ever used those words, and that it "doesn't sound like anything I've said".

The former Australian prime minister is said to have struck up a friendship with Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary.

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