The hiring of Tony Abbott to represent the UK in trade talks has again been defended by a government minister, amid ongoing controversy over the former Australian PM’s views on homosexuality and climate change.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that Mr Abbott’s track record of negotiating agreements for his homeland made him a “welcome” addition to the government’s team – but distanced himself from his previous commentary on social and environmental issues.
“Anyone who doubts that the global temperatures are changing and that it has something to do with men and women being on this planet is wrong, so I don’t agree with that,” he told the Kay Burley programme.
“I’m really not interested in what people do in their private lives and I certainly believe climate change is real and we have to act on it.”
After being grilled about why Mr Abbott had been asked to represent the UK in trade talks, Mr Shapps cited his track record of negotiating deals in Asia for Australia.
The transport secretary said: “The UK hasn’t been in the business of negotiating trade deals for 45 years, more now, since that went to the EU to do, so we welcome help and support in doing that.
“But as we say, he’s one of 16 people doing it, he’s not being paid.”
“Britain needs a really good trade deal, or trade deals around the world, and it’s a great opportunity for the UK and we need expertise in it,” he added.
“Here’s somebody who’s got global expertise who was the prime minister of Australia, he’s not just somebody at random and he’s one voice in a whole bunch of different voices unpaid for the role, and I think we will be able to secure jobs in Britain by having great trade deals in other parts of the world.”
The decision to appoint Mr Abbott as a senior trade adviser to the government has sparked controversy, after he was accused of sexism and homophobia over a string of comments made throughout his political career.
The 62-year-old has also made contentious claims about refugees and the coronavirus crisis, which led equality campaigners and opposition MPs to demand Boris Johnson block his new appointment.
Various ministers have gone into bat for the decision, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock responding to the suggestion that Mr Abbott was a “homophobe and misogynist” by saying: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
Despite the uproar, last Friday he was made a member of the UK Board of Trade and will advise the government on its post-Brexit strategy.
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