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UK government defends trade role for controversial ex-Australian prime minister

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Leader of the conservative opposition Tony Abbott speaks during a debate with the Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party Kevin Rudd at the National Press Club in Canberra August 11, 2013. Australia will hold a federal election on September 7.  REUTERS/Andrew Meares/Pool    (AUSTRALIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
The UK government defended appointing former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott in a trade role. Photo: Andrew Meares/Pool/Reuters

A UK minister has defended plans to give Australia’s controversial former prime minister Tony Abbott a trade role in the British government.

Sky News presenter Kay Burley pressed health secretary Matt Hancock over whether it was right to appoint an alleged “homophobic misogynist” to a senior role.

Hancock replied: “I don’t think that’s true. He’s also an expert in trade.”

He said he understood the plans would see Abbott supporting the UK on trade policy. The appointment has not been confirmed, but the Australian politician is widely expected to take up a role on Britain’s re-launched Board of Trade.

“I bow to nobody in my support for everybody to love who they love, whoever that is,” said Hancock in the televised interview.

“But we need to have the best experts in the world working in their field and as the former prime minister of Australia, he has a huge amount of experience.”

READ MORE: UK shop prices ‘certain to rise’ under a no-deal Brexit

The potential appointment has sparked controversy because of a string of past comments by Abbott.

Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said it would be “absolutely staggering,” and questioned whether he had enough trade negotiation experience as well as his reported “sexist, sleazy and misogynist behaviour.”

Accusations of misogyny against Abbott caught global attention in 2012, when Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard slammed the then-opposition leader’s behaviour in a speech in parliament.

Gillard criticised him at the time for once suggesting men were better adapted to exercise authority, and that abortion was the “easy way out,” according to Reuters.

Abbott has confirmed he has held “some discussions” with the UK government over the potential job.

He told the UK foreign affairs select committee he “wasn’t sure” he had ever made the comments about authority, the BBC reports, adding that it “doesn’t sound like anything I’ve said.”