Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been handed a top job advising the UK government on trade – despite a string of allegedly homophobic and sexist comments.
Senior LGBT supporters including Sir Ian McKellen and Stonewall, as well as the Labour Party’s equalities spokesperson, urged Boris Johnson to block the appointment.
Mr Abbott, 62, previously said he feels “threatened by homosexuality” and has campaigned “vigorously” against legalising same-sex marriage in Australia, according to campaigners.
He has also sparked controversy around women’s rights, abortion and climate change.
But when asked about his history on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “I obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all.”
A statement from the Department for International Trade did not directly address the controversy, but 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.”
Mr Abbott tweeted to say he is “looking forward” to facilitating new trade deals between the UK and other countries – “including Australia”.
He said he was “proud to be playing his part” and “only too keen to help”.
The politician, who served as Australian PM between 2013 and 2015, has been criticised for a number of contentious comments over the years, including:
- referring to abortion as the “easy way out” for women
- saying men are more suited to leadership rules, adding that they are “more adapted to exercise authority”
- describing homosexuality as “challenging the notions of the right order of things”
- referring to the “sex appeal” of a female opposition candidate
- claiming he is “hugely unconvinced” by the “so-called settled science on climate change”
- saying global warming has “stopped”
During his visit to Solihull on Friday, Mr Johnson said he does not share Mr Abbott’s views.
He said: “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.”
But he added: “This is a guy who was elected by the people of the great, liberal, democratic nation of Australia.
“It’s an amazing country, it’s a freedom-loving country, it’s a liberal country. There you go! I think that speaks for itself.”
In an interview with Kay Burley on Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not to condemn Mr Abbott’s alleged homophobia and sexism, saying that “he’s also an expert in trade”.
Julia Gillard, another former Australian prime minister who famously branded Mr Abbott a misogynist in parliament in 2012, earlier told Sky News: “I stand by every word of it”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Abbott’s controversial coronavirus views are “deeply offensive and wrong” and he is not fit to be a trade envoy.
Shadow justice secretary and Labour MP David Lammy accused the government of “not caring” about accusations Mr Abbott is homophobic and a misogynist.