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Tony Abbott keen to contribute ‘expertise’ to UK trade role

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Reuters

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Tony Abbott said he was “proud” to be helping the UK make the most of its “post-Brexit opportunities”

Tony Abbott has said he is looking forward to contributing his “expertise” in global commerce to his new role as a trade adviser to the UK government.

The former Australian PM was appointed to the unpaid role on Friday, despite criticism over his past comments on women, LGBT people and climate change.

Mr Abbott, who led Australia from 2013-15, posted on Twitter that he was “only too keen” to help the UK.

But Labour said he should have been disqualified from the role.

Mr Abbott will advise the new Board of Trade, set up to help ministers and encourage firms to do more business internationally, but will not be involved in post-Brexit talks between the UK and other countries.

His appointment has drawn criticism from opposition parties and equality activists, including Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies, who said his past comments meant he was not “fit” for the role.

The former Australian PM opposed same-sex marriage in Australia’s 2017 referendum and has been accused of making homophobic and misogynistic comments in the past.

He has also described the idea of climate change as “faddish”, and last year claimed the world was “in the grip of a climate cult”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did “not agree with those sentiments”, but rejected suggestions he was unsuitable for the role.

In a statement on Twitter, Mr Abbott said: “A UK-Australia trade deal, maximising the movement of goods, services and people is clearly in the best interests of both our countries.

“It’s important for the wider world that Britain make the most of its post-Brexit opportunities and I am proud to be playing a part.

“My government finalised trade deals between Australia and China, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to bringing that expertise to bear as Britain works towards mutually-beneficial improvements with its major trading partners.”

‘History of offensive statements’

But Labour shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry told Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Abbott should have been disqualified from the role.

She said: “First is his history of offensive statements towards women, LGBT people, minority groups – the list is so long and so despicable that I think it speaks to his character and his values, and I don’t think that’s a character we should have representing Britain around the world.

“But secondly, I just don’t think that he’s the right person to advise Britain on its trade policy.

“He was never involved in detailed trade negotiations. There were many people who did the spade work, and he turned up and signed them. And he thinks that issues like climate change and workers’ rights aren’t important.”

Alexander Downer, a former Australian high commissioner to the UK, rejected suggestions his ally Mr Abbott was a misogynist.

He told Today: “He is not a misogynist, he has appointed many women to positions – he was appointed to this position by a woman.

“I don’t think it stacks up, I think it’s just party politicking.”

Mr Downer added that the “huge” trade deals achieved while Mr Abbott was PM had been a “remarkable achievement”.

‘Challenging voices’

Other advisers to the Board of Trade will include former Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt, ex-Conservative Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan and Anne Boden, founder of the online-only bank Starling.

Ms Boden tweeted that she was “pleased” to be advising the Board of Trade, and that it was “important” to have “challenging voices” speaking to ministers.

But the financial technology expert added that she supported diversity and “so did this woman”, linking to a 2012 speech by another former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, in which she accused Mr Abbott of being a misogynist in the Australian parliament.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Jonathan Blake breaks down the next round of Brexit negotiations

The UK is currently looking to agree its own trade agreements for the first time in more than 40 years after leaving the European Union in January.

It is conducting negotiations with the US, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

The Board of Trade will meet four times a year.

The Department for International Trade has stressed that advisers to the board will have “no direct role in striking trade deals”.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: “The new Board of Trade will play an important role in helping Britain make the case for free and fair trade across the UK and around the world.”




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