Despite widespread criticism, and astonishment, from both domestic and global quarters, Boris Johnson has appointed controversial former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, to the UK Trade Board.
He will join eight other advisers on the panel to help shape post-Brexit trade policy and Free Trade Agreements, despite protestations that he is inexperienced in this area and has made countless misogynistic, anti-LGBT and anti-environmental comments.
Liz Truss, Secretary for International Trade, said the Trade Board would be made up of “a diverse group of people who share Britain’s belief in free enterprise, democracy and high standards and rules-based trade”.
However, her comments are contradicted by Abbott’s history of encouraging the sidelining of labour and environmental standards in the negotiation of free trade agreements and her own government’s moves to deliberately breach international law.
Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said Abbott was “the wrong appointment on every level”.
“First, his history of offensive statements is so long and repetitive that it speaks to serious defects in his character, which is not one I think should be representing Britain on the world stage.
“And second, the fact that he has no experience of detailed trade negotiations, no understanding of Brexit, no belief in climate change, no concern for workers’ rights, and no compunction about killing off Australia’s car industry mean, to my mind, that he has no credentials for this role.”
Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said he had “real concerns” about the appointment.
And it is not only opposition politicians that oppose the move. Caroline Nokes, a Conservative MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, told the BBC that she thought hiring Abbott was “awful”.
“Is he the sort of man I want to be representing us globally? No,” she said.
Kirsten Oswald, Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster said the appointment was “beyond indefensible”.
“If holding misogynistic, homophobic, Trump-backing, climate change-denying views, as well as saying that some elderly people with Covid-19 should be allowed to die, is what qualifies you for a role with this Tory government in promoting the UK internationally then it is not so much Global Britain as it is Little Britain,” she said.
But Boris Johnson defended his decision, describing Abbott as “a guy who was elected by the people of the great liberal democratic nation of Australia”, while also attempting to distance himself from some of Abbott’s more extreme views.
Abbott has previously described abortion as “the easy way out”, aggressively opposed both paid maternity leave and equal marriage for same-sex couples, and mocked attempts to limit the damage caused by climate change as being akin to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods.”