Calls for Britain to not hire Tony Abbott as a trade envoy are growing louder

There are growing calls in Britain to snub Tony Abbott for a potential trade advisor role due to concerns about previous comments on women and homosexuality.

Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure to drop former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a trade advisor

Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure to drop former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a trade advisor. Source: AAP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure not to appoint former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a trade advisor due to concerns over previous comments about women and homosexuality.

Mr Abbott has come under heavy scrutiny after it emerged he was in talks to become joint president of the relaunched British Board of Trade.

Downing Street said on Thursday that "no decisions" had been made for the role, with The Guardian reporting a final announcement has been delayed.


British Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended Mr Abbott in a Thursday exchange that's gone viral.

Mr Hancock, wearing a badge with the LGBTQI+ rainbow flag, was pressed over Mr Abbott's suitability during a Sky News UK interview.

"I bow to nobody in my support for everybody to love who they love, whoever that is," he said.

"But we need to have the best experts in the world working in their field and the former prime minister of Australia has a huge amount of experience."

When asked by host Kay Burley about accusations of homophobia and misogyny, Mr Hancock replied: "I don't think that's true".

Burley kept pressing Mr Hancock about whether he thought Mr Abbott was homophobic or misogynistic, to which Mr Hancock replied: "He's also an expert in trade." 

Opposition MPs were critical of Mr Hancock, with Peter Kyle saying on Twitter that government ministers "don't even pretend not to embrace bigots anymore".

Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry this week called Mr Abbott a "Trump-worshipping misogynist" and questioned "not just why but how" a "high-profile and controversial external individual" looks set to be appointed to the role.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also criticised Mr Abbott's suitability.

"I have real concerns about Tony Abbott and don’t think he's the right person for the job," he said. "If I was PM, I wouldn't appoint him."

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, a member of Mr Johnson's own government, has said the possible appointment would be an "awful" decision.

"This is such a bad idea, I'm not sure I can come up with words for how awful I think it is," she told the BBC.

"He's a misogynist, he has very poor views on LGBTQ rights and I just don't think this is a man who should be anywhere near our Board of Trade."

Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Mr Abbott's potential future boss, has said his prior comments are not "remotely relevant" to his possible appointment.

Mr Abbott has previously said that he feels "a bit threatened" by homosexuality, opposed same-sex marriage, and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.

He has previously described abortion as "the easy way out", and suggested men are "physiologically" more suited than women to exercise authority.

Mr Abbott is also a vocal climate sceptic who has previously said the climate crisis is "probably doing good".

More recently, Mr Abbott has criticised the economic cost of COVID-19 lockdowns, which he described as "health dictatorships".

On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison side-stepped questions about Mr Abbott, only repeating previous comments that he would be a "good hire”.

"The fact we now have a current account surplus, that we've had trade surpluses now for record periods of time, I think speaks well to his trade credentials, so I wish Tony well," Mr Morrison said in Canberra.

Mr Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, acknowledged he was an unabashed conservative, but said he possessed great compassion and respect for others.

"It is nothing short of dishonesty for commentators and politicians who do not know Tony to label him a 'homophobe and a misogynist' for the purposes of scoring cheap political points," she said in a statement.

4 min read
Published 4 September 2020 at 2:32pm
By Gavin Fernando