Ministers are under mounting pressure to drop plans to hand a senior trade role to former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott amid allegations of homophobia and misogyny. Downing Street insists no decision has been made but Abbott is in talks to become joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade.
Critics have raised numerous concerns, including over his climate change scepticism and belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
He has previously said that he feels “a bit threatened” by homosexuality, opposed same-sex marriage, and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
This evening I have written to the Govt urging them not to appoint Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade. His views are both offensive and outdated, and his appointment would be completely unacceptable. Full text of my letter 👇🏿 pic.twitter.com/WDm0cGJpvK
— I Can’t Breathe…Marsha de Cordova MP (@MarshadeCordova) September 3, 2020
Labour has written to the government urging it not to appoint Abbott to the role, saying to do so would be “completely unacceptable” because of his “offensive and outdated” views.
In a letter to international trade secretary Liz Truss, shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said:
Tony Abbott’s offensive and outdated views on women are well known, including characterising women as housewives who did the ironing and suggesting that uppermost in two female politicians’ qualities for office were their ‘sex appeal’.
His views on homosexuality, including his admission that he feels threatened by the LGBT community, and that ‘most people do’, are both dangerous and divisive.
De Cordova added:
This is yet another example of incompetence from this Government and a failure to respect the diversity of our communities.
The Labour Party urges the Government not to make this appointment and look instead for an expert with views on women and equalities that better reflect our British values.
Health secretary Matt Hancock, wearing an NHS badge with the LGBTQI+ rainbow flag, was questioned on Sky News on Thursday over the suitability of Abbott, who led his nation from 2013 until he was ousted by his own party in 2015. He said he does not believe Abbott is homophobic or misogynistic and, when pressed, added: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
De Cordova said Hancock’s comments were “deeply disturbing”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he has “real concerns” about Abbott, adding: “If I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him.” Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Abbott’s coronavirus views are “deeply offensive and wrong” and he is not fit to be a trade envoy.
The prime minister’s official spokesman on Thursday insisted that “no decision” on the board’s make-up had been made and declined to comment on the “political debate” surrounding Abbott.
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