Tony Abbott confirmed as UK trade adviser despite homophobia row

The former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has had his appointment as a UK trade adviser confirmed, despite days of opposition due to his ‘misogynistic’ views. 

The controversial figure will sit on the newly-relaunched Board of Trade as Britain seeks to negotiate trade deals with the US and other large economies after Brexit. 

Mr Abbott, 62, will take up what’s said to be an unpaid role alongside business leaders, economists and politicians.

The move has been criticised ever since he was first said to be in consideration for the position last week. 

Critics raised numerous concerns that he would not be a suitable candidate, citing his climate change scepticism and belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.

Mr Abbott has previously said he felt ‘a bit threatened’ by homosexuality and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended him, heralding his status as a former leader of ‘freedom-loving’ and ‘liberal’ Australia.

In its announcement, the Department for International Trade stressed that advisers to the board will have ‘no direct role in striking trade deals’.

Mr Abbott will be involved as the UK begins the process of agreeing its own trade agreements for the first time in more than 40 years after leaving the European Union in January.

Australia, where ex-Liberal Party leader Mr Abbott was prime minister for two years from 2013-15, is among the list of countries high on the Government’s list of priorities to negotiate with.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: ‘The new Board of Trade will play an important role in helping Britain make the case for free and fair trade across the UK and around the world.

‘At a time of increased protectionism and global insecurity, it’s vital that the UK is a strong voice for open markets and that we play a meaningful role in reshaping global trading rules alongside like-minded countries.

‘The new board will help us do that, bringing together a diverse group of people who share Britain’s belief in free enterprise, democracy, and high standards and rules-based trade.’

Mr Abbott’s appointment comes after prominent LGBT figures, including Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies, signed an open letter alongside environmental activists to ask the Government to reconsider his potential appointment.

The letter said Mr Abbott ‘vigorously campaigned’ against Australia’s successful marriage equality referendum in 2017 and had said climate change is ‘probably doing good’.

Labour had also written to the Government urging it not to appoint Mr Abbott, saying to do so would be ‘completely unacceptable’ because of his ‘offensive and outdated’ views.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy tweeted following the announcement: ‘Earlier in the week the Government as much as admitted Tony Abbott is a homophobe and a misogynist. They just don’t care.’

But the conservative figure has been defended by his sister Christine Forster.

In a statement posted on Twitter, she wrote: ‘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.

‘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.’

Other non-ministerial appointments to the board include Trade Association CEO Karen Betts, Fintech CEO Anne Boden, former Tory MEP and Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannan, former president of the Board of Trade Patricia Hewitt, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd, energy transition adviser Michael Liebreich, Lord Mayor of London William Russell and Dr Linda Yueh, an economist at Oxford University.

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