Choosing ex-Aussie PM for UK trade role would be 'shameful'

26 August 2020, 15:06

Appointing Tony Abbott would be "shameful" according to Labour's Emily Thornberry
Appointing Tony Abbott would be "shameful" according to Labour's Emily Thornberry. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Appointing former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a senior post-Brexit trade role would be "shameful" and "staggering", Labour has warned.

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Emily Thornberry responded to reports that Mr Abbott was being lined up as the joint president of Britain's relaunched Board of Trade with fierce criticism.

The MP for Islington South and Finsbury said it was "staggering" and "shameful" of Boris Johnson to consider the Australian politician on a personal level and branded it "breathtaking incompetence" on a professional level.

Ms Thornberry also expressed deep concern over the former Australian leader's character, describing him as an "offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist" with "no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements".

It comes as a number of new advisory groups were set up by the government to support the UK's post-Brexit trade talks.

Read more: Advisory groups set up to aid UK post-Brexit trade talks

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Speaking on Mr Abbott's possible selection, the shadow minister said: “Any way you look at it, this is an absolutely staggering appointment.

"On a personal level, it is shameful that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.  

“And on a professional level, this is someone with no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements, who denies the climate change that we believe should be at the heart of our trade policy, and who clearly has no concept of the importance of Britain's trade with the EU.

"He was ousted by his own colleagues after just two years in power, and rejected by his own constituents just last year. They are the people who know him best, and wanted rid of him, yet here we are now, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world.

"It's yet more breathtaking incompetence from a government that has turned it into an art-form."

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However, officials have downplayed reports Mr Abbott is due to be selected for a senior role promoting British trade deals around the world.

No decisions about the Board of Trade have yet been made, Whitehall has said.

Meanwhile, the UK's Department for International Trade has established 11 groups, tasked with helping to advise on negotiations, that will cover a range of areas, including investment, life sciences and financial services.

The advice given by organisations and stakeholders comprising the groups will then be used to help inform the government's negotiating position.

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

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the government hopes to strike deals benefiting "every part" of the UK.

"This is about bringing business closer to the negotiating table and using their expertise to help secure the best possible deals that deliver jobs and growth across Britain," said Ms Truss.

"Talks with Japan, the US, Australia and New Zealand are entering their crucial latter stages, so it is only right that we step up engagement with vital industries to utilise their technical and strategic expertise.

"I want business in Britain to feel engaged and informed about the work we're doing to build an independent trade policy and how it impacts them.

"As we recover from coronavirus we want to strike deals that benefit every part of the country so we can build back better and deliver a fairer country for all."