Former Australian PM Tony Abbott named UK trade adviser despite controversy over 'sexist and homophobic' comments

Trade advisers also include ex-Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan and former trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt
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By John Johnston

08 Sep 2020

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been made an adviser to the UK board of trade despite days of controversy over his comments on women and LGBT people.

Among the other individuals named by the government as advisers were the writer and former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, the British/American economist Linda Yueh, and the Labour politician and former trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Prime minister Boris Johnson had previously defended Abbott as "the guy who was elected by the people of the great liberal democratic nation of Australia".

Labour had already written to the government urging them not to appoint the ex-Aussie PM because of his "offensive and outdated views", including "characterising women as housewives who did the ironing and suggesting that uppermost in two female politician’s qualities for officer were their 'sex appeal'.

On Friday, a group of LGBT+ and environmental activists piled further pressure on Johnson to block the appointment, citing Abbott's description of abortion as "the easy way out" and for saying he was "threatened by homosexuality" during Australia’s campaign for same-sex marriage.

And they hit out at his suggestion that climate change is "probably doing good" and comparing policies aimed at tackling the issue to "primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods".

But speaking to Sky News, Johnson said he could not be expected to agree with everyone who serves the government.

"There is going to be an announcement, I think, in due course about the composition of the board of trade," he said.

"I obviously don't agree with those sentiments at all, but then I don't agree with everyone who serves the government in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country, and I can't be expected to do so."

He added: "What I would say about Tony Abbott is that this was a guy who was elected by the great liberal, democratic, nation of Australia. You've been to Australia, it is an amazing country, a freedom loving country, it is a liberal country. There you go, I think that speaks for itself."

The revived Board will be overseen by International Trade Secretary Liz Truess with Conservative MP Marcus Fysh as its deputy, and will provide ministers with advice on the UK's post-Brexit trade policy.

In a statement announcing the appointments, the Department for International Trade, said: "The new advisers to the board are announced at an important time for UK trade policy and as negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand enter their crucial latter stages - although advisers to the Board will have no direct role in striking trade deals.

"The board will represent a range of views to help in its advisory function, promoting free and fair trade and advising on UK trade policy to the international trade secretary."

John Johnson is a reporter at Civil Service World's sister title Politics Home, where a version of this story first appeared

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