Equalities minister claims Labour is ‘virtue-signalling’ after raising concerns about Tony Abbott

Liz Truss answers questions on former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. Photograph: Parliament

Liz Truss answers questions on former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

International trade secretary and equalities minister Liz Truss has claimed it is 'hypocrisy' for Labour to attack the government over a possible hiring of Tony Abbott.

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.

Liz Truss, who is also the government's equalities minister, was grilled by opposition MPs in the House of Commons about the planned appointment.

Sir Keir Starmer said he had real concerns about Abbott, adding that he was not 'the right person for the job' and that if he was prime minister 'I wouldn't appoint him.'

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Labour MP Christian Matheson told the Commons: 'The appointment of the sexist and homophobic Tony Abbott is also the appointment of a climate change denier.

'So does this indicate the government is moving away from any commitment in trade deals to maintain environmental protection? And if not, why have you put him in the job?'

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Truss snapped back: 'The reality is that those on the left of politics are always intolerant of anyone who doesn't agree with them but are prepared to defend anything from their own friends.'

Asked by Ruth Cadbury why the UK could not find another trade expert who demonstrates 'positive British values', Truss replied: 'I think it is absolute hypocrisy to hear this type of argument from the Labour Party.

'Until recently they had a shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who Ms Cadbury supported who called for the lynching of one of my female colleagues and never apologised for it.

'This is a party that has never elected a female leader despite having the opportunity time and time again.

'The reality is they'd rather virtue signal and indulge in tokenism rather than take real action to improve the lives of women.'

International trade minister Greg Hands welcomed Abbott in his willingness to 'help this country out'.

The prime minister's official spokesman 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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