Matt Hancock has defended a proposal to install former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a post-Brexit trade ambassador despite criticisms of his attitudes to women and homosexuality.
It is reported that Abbott is in talks to become joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade but critics have raised numerous concerns, including over his 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.
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In an interview with Kay Burley on Sky News, the health secretary dismissed concerns about his past comments by saying that he has a ‘huge amount of experience’.
‘As far as I understand it, the proposal is that Mr Abbott supports the UK on trade policy, which is an area which he has got a huge area of expertise.
‘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.’
‘As the former prime minister of Australia, Mr Abbott obviously has a huge amount of experience,’ replied Hancock.
Burley asked: ‘Even if he is a homophobic misogynist?’
‘Well, I don’t think that is true,’ said the health secretary, while wearing an NHS badge with the LGBTQ rainbow flag.
The presenter snapped back: ‘I have just read you what he said. I am sure you do not support some of his comments. He is a homophobe and he is a misogynist.
‘So one plays off against the other? Is that what you’re saying, health secretary? Really? Come on,’ replied Burley.
But Hancock simply said: ‘No, what I am saying is we needed experts in trade. We needed experts in different areas and somebody who is the former prime minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade.’
Twitter slammed his blasé attitude to the former Oz prime minister.
Shadow minister Peter Kyle said ministers ‘don’t even pretend not to embrace bigots anymore’.
Labour MP Marie Rimmer added: ‘Surely there’s trade experts who aren’t homophobic and misogynists? Britain deserves better than Tony Abbott representing us on the world stage.’
Leander Reeves wrote: ‘This is a party that invented Clause 28, of course they don’t mind Abbott’s politics, because they are revolting people.’
Twitter user @lee_b_20 wrote: ‘One Nation Tories’ that are prepared to throw part of our nation under a bus for ‘free trade’ . Cool cool.’
The group behind the badge Hancock was wearing also joined in the criticisms. They said the badge ‘means believing in what it stands for, and speaking up in support of LGBT+ people. It doesn’t mean excusing outdated views from people you want as political allies’.
Eddy Ventolera said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, he is not an expert on trade.’