BORIS Johnson has defied critics and appointed outspoken ex-Aussie PM Tony Abbott as a UK trade adviser despite an onslaught of criticism.
The PM defended Mr Abbott earlier today after attacks from politicians, celebs and environmentalists calling him “homophobic” and misogynistic”.
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Mr Johnson ignored environmentalist and LGBT+ activists and celebs, including Sir Ian McKellen, who today demanded Mr Abbott is not given the job as his trade envoy.
In an open letter, they wrote: “This is a man who described himself as ‘threatened by homosexuality’, and vigorously campaigned against the ultimately successful referendum in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry.”
Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss said this evening: “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.
“At a time of increased protectionism and global insecurity, it’s vital that the UK is a strong voice for open markets and that we play a meaningful role in reshaping global trading rules alongside like-minded countries.
“The new Board will help us do that, bringing together a diverse group of people who share Britain’s belief in free enterprise, democracy, and high standards and rules-based trade.”
The Board, an advisory body to the Department of International Trade, will work with businesses across the UK to help boost their international as part of its mission to further strong free trade policies and agreements internationally.
Mr Johnson defended Mr Abbott this afternoon, saying: “There’s going to be an announcement in due course about the composition of the Board of Trade.
“I obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all, but I don’t agree with everyone who serves the government in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country.
“I can’t be expected to do so. What I would say about Tony Abbott is 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. I think that speaks for itself.”
Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry has also been a vocal critic of Mr Abbott, labelling him both “homophobic” and “sexist”.
She said today: “From the first moment Tony Abbott was proposed for this role on Britain’s Board of Trade, I’ve said we need to judge him not just on his despicable personal history of offensive statements and views, but on his equally dismal professional record as well.”
But Mr Abbott is keen to help the UK secure bumper free-trade deal with Australia after the transition period with the EU ends on December 31.
He said earlier this week: “All I can really say at this time is that it would be in both Britain’s interests and Australia’s interests to conclude a very full and comprehensive free trade deal between our two countries as quickly as possible.”
The ex-PM landed himself in even more hot water by suggesting some countries, including Australia, had become “health dictatorships” over coronavirus and elderly people should be left to die “naturally”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to defend him earlier this week after Sky News host Kay Burley attacked Mr Abbott’s record on women and the LGBT+ community.
He said: “I bow to nobody in my support for everybody to love who they love, whoever that is.
“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.”
Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster, who is gay, came out with a staunch defence of her brother accusing his critics of lying about the ex-PM’s record.
Ms Forster wrote: “It is nothing short of dishonesty for commentators and politicians who do not know Tony to label him a “homophobe and a misogynist” for the purposes of scoring cheap political points.
“As a woman who has always been a part of his life and who came out to him as gay in my early 40s, I know incontrovertibly that Tony is neighter of those things.
“He is a man of great conviction and intellect: an unabashed conservative but with great compassion, respect for others, and an indelible sense of doing what is right.”