Labour calls government’s candidate tipped to run post-Brexit trade board ‘downright humiliating’

PUBLISHED: 11:39 26 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:49 26 August 2020

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott speaking at the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Chris Jackson

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott speaking at the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Chris Jackson

PA Archive/PA Images

Labour has called the decision to appoint a former Australian Conservative prime minister a the head of a post-Brexit trade body “downright humiliating”.

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Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry has described the government’s plans to appoint former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to lead Britain’s recently relaunched Board of Trade “downright humiliating”.

The Sun and The Express have reported that Abbott is set to be unveiled as president of Britain’s trade body responsible for promoting the country’s business interests abroad.

Abbott, who was the Conservative prime minister of Australia from 2013 until he was ousted by his own party during a leadership ballot in 2015, has reportedly been asked by Boris Johnson to join the group as part of a drive to convince a number of global “friends” to drum up support for Brexit Britain.

“I just find this appointment absolutely staggering,” Thornberry told POLITICO.

“On a personal level, I am disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.

“And on a professional level, this is someone whose only experience of trade agreements was turning up to sign the treaties Andrew Boff negotiated for him.

“He was ousted by his own colleagues after two years in power, and kicked out of Australian politics by his own constituents just last year. They are the people who know him best, and they wanted rid of him — yet here we are, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world. If it wasn’t so downright humiliating, it would be almost hilarious.”

Abbott lost his north Sydney seat of Warringah to a former Olympic skier in last year’s Australian elections that saw the Liberal Party - Australia’s conservative party - retain government.

The former PM is seen as a divisive figure in Australian politics and was notably on the receiving end of an anti-misogyny speech in Canberra by then prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012.

Last night a Whitehall source told The Sun the government was “delighted” to have Abbott on board but officials have said that an official decision has not been made yet.

News of the appointment comes the government announced it was setting up a new advisory groups to support the UK’s post-Brexit trade talks.

The UK’s Department for International Trade has set up 11 groups covering a range of areas, such as investment, life sciences, and financial services, to help advise on negotiations.

The launch of the new advisory groups comes as ministers seek to step up talks with countries including Japan, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

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