Asked about the former Australian prime minister’s controversial views, Matt Hancock says he has a “huge” amount of trade expertise
The health secretary has defended Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister amid concerns regarding his attitudes towards women and homosexuality, saying: “Well, he’s also an expert in trade.”
Matt Hancock said during a Sky News interview that Mr Abbott has a “huge” amount of expertise on the subject of trade, amid reports that the ex-Australian leader is being lined up to be joint president of the UK’s relaunched Board of Trade.
News of the potential trade role for Tony Abbott has sparked criticism in light of his views on women and homosexuality.
This comes after the German government has said that toxicological exams at Berlin’s Charité hospital have yielded “unequivocal proof” that Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was poisoned with a novichok nerve agent.
The former prime minister of Australia has reportedly previously said that men are better suited for leadership roles than women, has described abortion as the “easy way out”, during his leadership he opposed same-sex marriage and said that he feels a “bit threatened by homosexuality”.
Opponents have also criticised Tony Abbott for saying at an event in London that COVID-19 lockdown restrictions should be lifted in order for people yo make their own decisions about the risks they are willing to take.
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, has described the former Australian PM as a “Trump-worshipping misogynist”.
Asked whether he had ever suggested that men may be “by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command”, Mr Abbott told MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday: “I am not sure I ever did say that.”
Asked about Tony Abbott’s possible appointment, Mr Hancock said on the Kay Burley programme: “As far as I understand it, the proposal is that Mr Abbott supports the UK on trade policy, which is an area in 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.”
This comes after the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has defended his citizens’ rights to freedom of speech. The leader’s remarks came as the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the target of a massacre by terrorists in 2015, announced that it was republishing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Pressed again about the former Australian leader’s views, Mr Hancock replied: “Well, he’s also an expert in trade.”
He added: “What I’m saying is we need experts in different areas and somebody who is the former prime minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade.”
“It doesn’t change my views.”
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister said in an interview: “I don’t think he should be doing that job. I think your description of him as a misogynistic homophobe is an accurate one.”
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, also said in an interview that Mr Abbott was “not the kind of person who should be a trade envoy for the UK”.
“If I had anything to do with that decision he wouldn’t be a trade envoy for the United Kingdom,” she said.