Keir Starmer has ‘real concerns’ about Tony Abbott and says government should not hire him for Brexit role

‘If I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him,’ says Labour leader

Adam Forrest
Thursday 03 September 2020 12:45 BST
Keir Starmer has 'real concerns' about Tony Abbott and says government should not hire him for Brexit role

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott would not be the “right” person to conduct post-Brexit trade deals on behalf of the UK.

Mr Abbott is in talks to join Britain’s relaunched Board of Trade, but the leader of the opposition said he had “concerns” about him taking up any senior role.

“I have real concerns about Tony Abbott and I don’t think he’s the right person for the job,” said Sir Keir. “And if I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman today declined to comment on whether Mr Abbott was a fit person for the position, but indicated that a decision on his appointment has not yet been made.

"No decisions on the Board of Trad have been made," the spokesman told reporters at a regular daily briefing.

Mr Abbott has been accused by leading political figures in both Australia and the UK of misogyny, homophobia and downplaying the science on climate change.

Mr Abbott confirmed he was in discussions with the government about a possible trade role when appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday.

Earlier today Matt Hancock defended a government “proposal” to give the former Australian prime minister a key role forging trade deals.

The health secretary said a potential appointment was justified purely because of his trade experience, but did not attempt to defend the ex-Australian leader’s history of controversial remarks.

During his time in Australian politics Mr Abbott questioned whether men having more power than women was necessarily “a bad thing” and once described a young, female candidate in his own Liberal Party as having “sex appeal”.

He also campaigned strongly against same-sex marriage and suggested climate change is “probably doing good”.

Tony Abbott is in discussions about a UK trade role (Getty)

Mr Abbott caused controversy at a Policy Exchange think tank speech in London on Tuesday – suggesting that families should be able to consider allowing elderly relatives with the coronavirus to die by letting “nature take its course”.

Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP have all now expressed their concerns about Mr Abbott representing the UK around the world.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday: “If I had anything to do with the decision he wouldn’t be a trade envoy for the United Kingdom.”

She added: “He’s a misogynist, he’s a sexist, he’s a climate change denier. In my view he’s not the kind of person who should be a trade envoy or any kind of envoy for the UK.”

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