Tony Abbott, the controversial former Prime Minister of Australia who it’s rumoured is soon-to-be the UK’s latest Trade Envoy, has boasted of his ability to fast-track international trade deals by not allowing himself to be “sidetracked” by such details as workers’ rights and environmental standards.
News of Boris Johnson’s intention to recruit Abbott to a role on the UK’s Board of Trade, advising the government on its post-Brexit Free Trade Agreements with countries such as the US, was immediately subject to widespread ridicule late last week.
Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Secretary for Trade, described Abbott as an “offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist”, saying the alleged appointment was “staggering”.
Indeed, Abbott has been quoted as describing Trump’s leadership approach as “crude but effective”.
Besides his questionable character, many also brought up Abbott’s lack of knowledge and experience of international trade deals, with Former Australian High Commissioner for the UK, Mike Rann, telling Politico: “Britain asking Tony Abbott to run its trade negotiations would be about as credible as Australia asking Gavin Williamson to take charge of its education system.”
It is unclear whether Abbott would be installed as Chair or Advisor to the Board, but comments unearthed by the Guardian have already shown the risk to workers of him taking either role.
“Our insight was to grasp that free trade deals are too important to leave to the officials,” Abbott wrote of his government’s agreements with China, Korea and Japan in a Spectator column in March 2017.
He boasted of his role in ensuring “we weren’t sidetracked by peripheral issues such as labour and environmental standards”.
It seems the rest of the UK Trade Board may be equally unsympathetic to labour standards, as appointments announced so far are entirely of business representatives with no one speaking on behalf of workers.
While Thornberry said Abbott’s appointment would be “hilarious” were it not so “humiliating”, the Guardian reported that it should not be surprising. Abbott – described by the newspaper’s Diplomatic Editor, Patrick Wintour, as “more patriotic about Britain than most Britons” – is well-liked by right-wing think tanks, Policy Exchange and the Centre of Policy Studies.
Wintour also revealed he has “excellent connections with the Conservative Party” such as links to Rupert Murdoch, Lynton Crosby and Trade Secretary, Liz Truss.